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Taking long steps to combat HIV/AIDS

By Xu Lin | China Daily | Updated: 2012-10-17 10:33

When Song Zhimao climbed the Jinshanling Great Wall in Beijing on Saturday afternoon, he attracted a lot of attention. He was wearing a qipao (a traditional Chinese dress for women) and a pair of high heels.

Song did so for a meaningful purpose. The 25-year-old was one of the 115 volunteers from home and abroad, who joined the first China AIDS Walk event for a three-hour hike to create awareness about HIV/AIDS and call for an end to discrimination against people with the disease.

"I promised my friends that I'd cross-dress if they make a cash donation toward the program. I kept my word and dressed in women's clothes for the first time," says Song, the co-founder of Ijustwannabuy.com, an English-language group-buying website.

"It's rather embarrassing at first when tourists cast curious glances at me. But it made me empathize with AIDS patients who have to endure the social stigma," he says.

Since 1985, the United States has been organizing HIV/AIDS walks to raise funds for HIV/AIDS-related activities.

Taking long steps to combat HIV/AIDS

In China, the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute started the program in May and has since collected 150,000 yuan ($24,000) in donations.

The institute offers simple trainings, teaching such skills as fundraising and awareness-building. Those who have undergone the trainings are encouraged to spread the messages to their families and friends.

"It's a process of passing on information, like snowballing, so more people will be involved," says Wei Tingting, project manager of the institute.

Song, who raised nearly 10,000 yuan, says: "I tell all my friends about the program, and many are very supportive. To do good is not so difficult."

Wei says most of the participants are in their 20s and nearly half are foreigners. They include representatives from the embassies of the United Kingdom, the US, Sweden and France.

"The benefit is that, with time, people's minds are changing about the disease, including some of my families'," says Brendon Legault, a 23-year-old university student from Edmonton city, Alberta, Canada.

The deadline of the fundraising campaign in China is Dec 1, which is World AIDS Day. The person or representative of an organization who raises the most donations will be sent to participate in the annual AIDS/Life Cycle in the US.

According to Ministry of Health statistics, as of the end of 2011, an estimated 780,000 people in China were living with HIV/AIDS.

Dawei (not his real name), an AIDS patient, was seen hugging hikers and tourists at the end of the hiking route.

"I'm very glad to be part of the event and moved that many tourists came to hug me," he says, with tears in his eyes. "Life has been tough, and I don't know how I survived through the years."