Yesterday we were invited by the Perak Women for Women Society (PWW) to give a talk to their members and some of their guests. The talk was an informal one, more to introduce Buddies to them and to form some sort of networking.
What's PWW? It is an independent voluntary organisation [like us Buddies] committed to improving the lives of women in Perak. Their vision is to create a just and equitable society where women are treated with respect and free from all forms of violence and discrimination. The society is affiliated to the All Women's Action Society (AWAM) [while Buddies is affiliated to Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC)].
3 representatives from Buddies attended the talk - our honorary secretary, the assistant secretary and yours truly. As for the audience, other than members of PWW, we had also a few foreign students under AFS (locally known as Antarabudaya Malaysia). We had students from US, Australia, Germany, Japan and Egypt.
Since this event was meant for networking, Dr Sharifah started off the talk by giving a brief introduction of PWW to us Buddies and to the AFS representatives.
Our honorary secretary then introduced Buddies to the audience - explaining about how we started off back then just as a project under the Perak Family Planning Association, and then later we decided to move on our own, as an independent organisation registered under the Registrar of Societies. She also highlighted our various services/activities other than providing support services to PLWHAs - HIV clinic, Children Education Fund, Sponsorship for Children, Outreach, Buddy Bears, Welfare, etc.
After the brief introduction to Buddies by our honorary secretary, I then took over from her. Since the event was organised by PWW, a society for women, I thought it would be good to talk a bit about Women and HIV. To talk in depth about the issue would actually need a whole session by itself, so I just talked a bit about the problems faced by HIV positive women in general. Dr Sharifah had after all, mentioned about the empowerment of women in her earlier introduction speech, which I found to be very related to our HIV positive clients.
As I mentioned, somehow people tend to look down more on HIV positive women as compared to HIV positive men. People tend to get the impression that HIV positive women are the "itchy-itchy" or gedik kind. Whereas in actual fact, at least in the Malaysian context, 90% of the women were infected by their own husbands! Now, how fair is that?!
I highlighted too my own personal experiences in dealing with the HIV positive women - those who were not given the right to make their own decisions, those who didn't get family support, those who didn't have anyone to talk to - all because of the stigma and discrimination they had to face.
The audience also shared some of their own experiences. One talked about a good friend of his who had AIDS... how when this friend died the family didn't want to touch him. Only one sister-in-law was willing to handle the body; but after that, the family insisted she goes for blood tests every 3 months! And oh, they also had the house sprayed!!
Another lady suggested that the awareness should start at the hospitals first! She mentioned about a friend of hers, suspected to be HIV positive (it was false alarm actually), and was isolated in a separate room at the maternity ward. That reminded me of Maria, a client of mine - while warded at the maternity ward, after one of her meals when one of the hospital staff came over to her bed wanted to clear her fork and spoon, the staff didn't dare touch the fork and spoon with her bare hands! How do you think Maria felt then?!
Some of the audience including foreign students.
Anyway, overall it was a good event. Not only did we manage to get to network with other societies, we also managed to share our experiences. We all agreed that more should be done to create awareness amongst the public.
Before the whole thing ended, Dr Sharifah on behalf of PWW handed over a token of appreciation, which I accepted on behalf of Buddies.
The token - this basket was actually made from recycled paper!
While we were having some refreshments prepared by PWW, a few of the PWW members came over to personally ask further about our support services and our experiences.
Hopefully this will be a start to a better networking and cooperation between the different NGOs.