OK, take a deep breath. It's around 6 in the morning and it's hot. It doesn't feel like wintertime, but there are constant reminders with all the Christmas decorations still dotting the landscape around Chiang Mai (It's waaaaay past New Years'). I run in the morning because it's cooler and I try to beat the morning commute. I also get a glimpse of the Buddhist monks collecting their alms early in the morning. It has a very grounding effect. If you will, let me take you on a quick trip through my experiences as a volunteer for Volunteer Positive in Thailand.
The NGO to which I have been assigned here in Chiang Mai is the Thai Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS (TNP+) which was officially established in 1997. This network has organized itself into seven regions representing all of Thailand. I am working with the Northern Region which represents the eight provinces of northern Thailand.
Before my volunteer work began I have been blessed with a great gift here in Thailand that I'm sure could not have been as great had it been in the Peace Corps or in any other volunteer organization. That gift has been meeting, getting to know and quickly coming to Love and deeply respect Carlton and the other inaugural volunteers from Canada, the United States and Malaysia. I am honored to serve in their company!
Wait! I ask a friend as we make our way to the San Francisco airport. What's the word for "fish paste" in Thai? I had been trying to learn a few Thai phrases before I left, but with only three months notice, I didn't learn much Thai. Now I'm obsessed with fish paste because I'm vegetarian and I want to avoid it in my food. Clif Bars don't have fish paste, I tell myself, as I throw them in my backpack.
My story begins during the winter of 1993/94 when my partner of 10 years was hospitalized several times with pneumonia. When he was tested and found to be HIV positive, this led to my testing and diagnosis in May 1994. My partner's health deteriorated rapidly until his death in May 1995, whereas I have maintained excellent health to date without any opportunistic infections. Both he and I shared a passion for foreign travel and experiencing different cultures. Early on, I decided that HIV would not be something that would define me as an individual. I was determined to maintain a sense of humour and a positive outlook on life realizing the importance of love and living each day to the fullest without regrets.
But first I focused on earning my Bachelor of Science degree from the University of New Mexico, then time in the Air National Guard, followed by earning my master's degree and teaching credentials from California State University, Los Angeles. I then enjoyed a very happy and fulfilling career as a special education teacher in California and also found my Soulmate and Life Partner. Through all these years I expected that someday I would be a Peace Corps volunteer.
Ten international volunteers will make history this January 2012, as they become the inaugural team of people living with HIV to serving openly as international volunteers in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Each volunteer will work at local NGOs guided by local leaders and supported by Volunteer Positive staff.