"This article originally appeared as part of TheBody.com's series of articles, "2011 HIV/AIDS Year in Review." Read the entire series here.
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.
This international group of history makers is composed of eight Americans, one Canadian, and one Malaysian ranging in age from 34 to 65 and overwhelmingly from the LGBT community. They will be working with children orphaned by HIV, sex workers, at-risk youth, HIV+ support groups, the local Human Rights and LGBT Center, Arts organizations, refugees, and Buddhist Monks. The goal of Volunteer Positive is to fight stigma through creating a counter narrative of what it is like to live with HIV, and to visibly demonstrate that the strength and agency of people living with the virus can be leveraged to help others, build community, and create greater acceptance and lessen stigma.
This fall, Volunteer Positive's executive director, Carlton Rounds, hosted a dinner for the organization's NGO partners in Chiang Mai and was overwhelmed with the support received on behalf of the volunteers by this remarkable community. During this dinner Volunteer Positive's local program coordinator was introduced, a woman who is herself living with HIV and a regional expert and activist from the Northern Thailand Network of People Living with AIDS. Additionally, it was also shared that Volunteer Positive is being recognized by the U.S. Consul General in Chiang Mai as improving U.S./Thai relations and the U.S. State Department for its efforts to include HIV+ people in the field of international service and diplomacy.
Volunteer Positive signals a change in the thinking and doing of people living with HIV. We are strong, capable and talented; and it is our time to contribute to decreasing stigma though relationship building, public service, and the power of visibility. It is our time to claim our right as change agents, experts, and survivors who have not just a place in the future, but a right to shape that future for ourselves and for others.
Visit Volunteer Positive's website to learn of our future program dates for Thailand and our future program sites in Africa and Latin America.
Look for reflections on our experiences in Thailand this January here on TheBody.com!
Volunteer Positive is an international service agency for people affected by HIV/AIDS. The organization launched in early 2011.