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Pen Pal Program Helps Chinese Youths Affected by AIDS

November 19, 2013

This article was reported by the Christian Science Monitor.

The Christian Science Monitor recently described the impact of the China AIDS Fund's (CAF) programs for HIV-infected children in China's Henan Province and their young U.S. pen pals. CAF aimed to prevent HIV's spread in China, to increase U.S. public awareness of HIV among China's youth, and to promote self-determination and education for HIV-infected Chinese youth.

Dr. Vincent Wang, president of CAF's International Pen Pal program, reported that Henan Province became China's HIV epidemic epicenter in the 1990s due to the Chinese government's blood donation practices. Wang estimated that China had 4 million HIV-infected residents. Children, some of whom contracted HIV at birth, were especially vulnerable. Some parents died of AIDS and surviving children lived in extreme poverty or with distant relatives; many lacked emotional support. Because rural Henan villages were uneducated about HIV and AIDS, residents discriminated against the children, according to Shari Cai, former CAF board member.

Wang stated that the pen pal program began in 2003 by pairing HIV-infected Henan youth with Beijing University students, and then broadened to connect U.S. youth with their Chinese peers. Some Beijing University students assisted with translating letters and emails for the pen pals. Cai noted that CAF's program took 20-30 American pen pals to visit Henan Province annually, which provided a "cultural shock" and changed the way the American youth saw the world. Wang and Cai affirmed that having pen pals helped the Henan youth to thrive.

CAF opened one children's center in Henan in 2009 and another in summer 2013. The centers served 700 children, providing libraries, computers, and activity rooms, but many more HIV-infected children remained unserved, according to Wang. CAF awarded five university scholarships in 2012.

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