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Summer friendships help children with HIV

China Daily | Updated: 2013-08-21 00:39

When I was sitting next to 11-year-old Wenhui during a lunch buffet at a summer camp last week, she acted just like other children her age. We talked about her life at school and our favorite cartoons.

I almost forgot that Wenhui has HIV/AIDS.

I shifted a little bit to get more comfortable. "Why did you move away from me?" Wenhui yelled at me.

Prejudice about HIV/AIDS is still rampant in China, which has about 8,000 children living with HIV/AIDS on the mainland.

When I first met Wenhui at a summer camp that takes children with AIDS sightseeing to Hong Kong Disneyland, she approached me and asked if she could be my friend.

"I have no parents (they died of AIDS), and teachers at my orphanage asked me to make as many friends as possible," she said.

Wenhui held my arm tightly whenever we were around other children. I knew the disease made her feel unsafe, and I felt sorry for her. I even shed a tear when I spotted her sneaking into a bathroom to take her medicine.

She said the summer camp activities made her feel relaxed, like "we were all the same", and while on them she felt comfortable enough to take her medicine without hiding.

The activities include sightseeing trips to popular tourist attractions, overnight stays at four- and five-star hotels and fine dining. After the camp, Wenhui went back to her orphanage and life returned to normal. She once again felt forced to hide her disease from her schoolmates.

"I just wish that I could always be a child at the camp and never grow old," Wenhui said.

Gao Jun, 12, starred in an Oscar-winning documentary about the plight of children with HIV/AIDS. At an opening ceremony for a different summer camp for children with HIV/AIDS in Beijing on Tuesday, he was invited to talk about his dream of becoming a pilot. The audience applauded as he spoke, and some people even cried.

Gao spoke at a similar event recently in Beijing and is comfortable in front of the cameras, as his summer holidays are always busy with such activities.

I wonder, though, what his life will be like when he grows up and is no longer in the spotlight?

Wu Zunyou, director of the National Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Disease Control and Prevention, said, "We should never make them little actors of varied vanity projects for grown-ups."

Zhou Zengquan, a veteran AIDS doctor in Kunming, Yunnan province, agreed, saying excessive attention and care might lead to unwanted consequences.

"Treat them as normal and let them relax. Never pressure them with too much attention or allow them to benefit just due to their condition," said.

"It's OK to say no to them as well. Everyone, regardless of whether they have HIV, will be told ‘no' during their lives," he said.

"Can you go swimming with me?" Wenhui asked.

Swimming in the same pool? I couldn't do it, even though I knew that I couldn't get the virus from swimming with her.

"Can we play some other games?" I replied.

I want to help these children as much as I can, even if I do nothing more than make them feel relaxed.