I can't remember the exact date I joined Buddies as a volunteer, but I know it was circa April 2004, roughly about the same time as the registration of The Buddies Society of Ipoh Perak. Prior to that Buddies of Ipoh was a unit under Perak Family Planning (now Perak Family Health) Association.
That means it has been 13 long years. Many things may have changed. If back then, about 70% of new infections were among injecting drug users, and less than 30% were sex-transmitted, nowadays it's the other way round. There has also been a drop in new reported cases. Back then, when our volunteers went to the hospital for clinic duty, we'd be kept busy with the new cases referred to us, sometimes 4 to 5 cases each clinic. Of late, we've had very few cases referred during clinic. Sometimes just one. Sometimes none at all. Very rare we'd have more than one. Which is of course a good thing, unless the "no case referred" was due to no-show by the newly diagnosed case.
Like any other new volunteers, I too, when I first joined, had to be a trainee under the supervision of a senior volunteer before they could confirm me. And once I was confirmed, one by one, I started getting new cases assigned to me. Being the only female Malay volunteer then (before me there was none), and with so many cases of HIV+ Malay ladies needing help, it was a no-brainer for the volunteers on clinic duty to assign me to cases involving Malay ladies, especially those staying in kampong areas.
I used to do a lot of home visits back then. For a few of the poor families, I went to visit them monthly without fail, as I knew they needed all the support they could get. Dealing with calls and messages from clients was almost a daily thing. Due to the long list of active clients that I had, I used to have a log book to note down all the calls and visits, so I could have a record to refer to.
But things have changed of late. I don't visit as frequent as I used to. Initially I wasn't too sure of the reason... maybe I was too busy with admin matters ever since I became the chairman... maybe the families I used to visit are already independent enough and no longer need as much attention... maybe it was because we've had a few more Malay ladies as volunteers to share the burden.
I do notice however, that the other volunteers in Buddies are also facing the same thing. They are no longer as busy with their HIV clients as they used to be. At least in my case, since I have a long list of clients, and I am also in charge of our Education Sponsorship for Children program, I still keep in touch with some of my clients, and I still do visit a few families from time to time.
Providing moral and emotional support to People Living with HIV and their families had always been the main objective of Buddies. It is still our main objective, but with lesser new cases referred, maybe we need to consider other objectives as well. We don't want our volunteers to get bored. We're planning to have a volunteer retreat this year, during which we hope to have a brainstorming session to discuss our past achievements and our plans for the future, in order to stay relevant.