One day, instead of Thai class, our whole group met up to do an exchange with an HIV/AIDS organization called Ban Rom Yen. We met them at a hospital about an hour away from Khon Kaen, and got to learn about their organization and their hopes for the HIV/AIDS situation in Thailand. They told us that it is a really hard to promote safe sex here, because of a lot of relationships between husbands and wives. Although this is not the situation for all Thai marriages, one of the women we talked to said that a lot of the time husbands will have girlfriends on the side, get infected by HIV/AIDS and then pass it on to their wives. She said that some women have no control over their husband's sexual partners, so they are trying to campaign condom use, so that husbands will use condoms when they go outside of the house for sex. It was kind of surprising to hear that, although we know that many Thai women nowadays have more control in their marriages than before. We also talked to a few volunteers in the organization who have HIV/AIDS, and got to hear some of their personal experiences - how they contracted the illness, how their communities reacted, and what their hopes are for the future.
After the exchange, a couple of the volunteers had us participate in activities and then gave us one of the sex talks that they do around the region to promote safe sex. This talk was pretty funny, especially because it was being translated by one of our Thai teachers, and was highlighted by one of our guys being asked his penis size, to which he replied, "Um..I don't know it in metric."
We then went on home visits to people who have been helped by this organization. We went to two different houses, the first one being to a woman who was blind and had a VERY drunk yai (grandmother), who kissed one of our guys fully on the lips. It was a weird experience, because there was the funniness of the drunk yai mixed with the very real and sobering conversation with the woman with HIV. The next house had a man who was all skin and bones - maybe 80 or 90 lbs - and couldn't sit up without help from the volunteers who were with my group. He was also blind, but gave us a much less hopeful portrayal of the illness, which was hard to hear at points. The whole day made me want to get involved in this struggle to help PLWHA (People Living With HIV and AIDS), because it is something that is very real and present in Thai society, but is hard to deal with, because of the blame that comes with the disease. A lot of the people we talked to did not contract HIV from sex, and many of them talked about being shameful, because they did not want to be seen as prostitutes. Anyways, I really hope to become more involved with the movement as my time in Khon Kaen goes by!