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Art project helps Thai children heal scars of HIV stigma

Bangkok, 2 June 2006

UNICEF Image: UNICEF image: Nane Annan in Thailand
© UNICEF Thailand/2006/Thomas

Nane Annan views examples of

artwork by Thai children living with HIV

By Natthinee Rodraksa

Before stepping out onto the stage, 15-year-old Ying (not her real name) takes a deep breath and holds tightly onto the mask that will serve not only to make her less nervous but also to hide her identity.

With their backs to the audience, Ying and 15 other Thai children living with HIV line up and slowly don their masks before turning around. The theme of their performance – part of a UNICEF-supported project and exhibition entitled, ‘Who am I? Why am I Here?’ – is the discrimination that Thai children with HIV face in their everyday lives.

An art exhibition associated with the dramatic presentation features more than 50 paintings and photographs by the young actors and 10 other children living with HIV. The drama and artwork were created by the children, who range in age from 10 to 16, in a series of workshops held earlier this year.    

The exhibition, which opened last month, has drawn large crowds in Bangkok. It will travel to three other regions in Thailand in the coming months to help educate people about HIV/AIDS.

Channels of expression

The children involved in the art and drama project received a visit last week from Nane Annan, who was on an official mission to Thailand with her husband, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. In her honour, the actors took off their masks for the first time at the end of the performance.

“Thank you for lifting your masks and showing us the beauty of all of you,” said Ms. Annan, obviously moved. “I will be talking about the show and all of you for a long time.” She went on to praise the children “for showing us that we all have to look inside ourselves and find ways to fight stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.”

UNICEF Image: UNICEF image: Thai children living with HIV
© UNICEF Thailand/2006/Thomas
Thai children living with HIV deliver a dramatic performance on the discrimination they face in their lives

During a question-and-answer session, the children told Ms. Annan about the discrimination they experience. One girl said her teacher had forbidden her to play sports in school. “I insisted, and in the end I won the gold medal in the sports competition,” she said. “I wanted to show that HIV kids could do the same as other kids.”

UNICEF Representative in Thailand Inese Zalitis said that drama and other artistic activities “help restore self-esteem and provide channels of expression for the children, allowing them to enjoy the same rights as other children.”

The Director of the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, Panita Thapanangkul, pointed out positive changes in the children’s personalities as a result of the project, noting that art “reduces their fear, insecurity and sense of being rejected. Their eyes are now filled with hope and confidence. It is also encouraging to see that they are more willing to interact with the world outside their home.”

A future unmasked

Ying, whose mother died of AIDS, has noticed such changes in herself and is thankful for the opportunity. “Art helps me feel incredibly better and gives me hope,” she said.

Ying recalled that she was very angry with her mother when she found out about her own HIV status. She locked herself in her room and cried because she did not know how to deal with it.

“But now I want to thank my family for their love and support for me,” said Ying. “I wouldn’t have come this far without them. I am no longer scared about living with HIV because I know there are a lot people supporting me.”

Perhaps one day, Ying and other Thai children living with HIV will be able to remove their masks for good.

Link to unicef page/website