Posted by Mike Thomas on 15th November 2007
When Ginge arrived in Thailand in 2000, she had to idea what lay in front of her. A visit to Wat Pra Baat Nam Phu Hospice prompted her to stay as a resident and volunteer for a short time. It was here that she first met Karl when they argued over the fate of a very sick HIV+ baby of 18 months. After a period back in England, Ginge returned to volunteer at BaanGerda where she stayed for 18 months.
At that time, BaanGerda was little more than a muddy field and a couple of houses. The life-saving ARV medicine was not initially available and it was a testing and emotional time for everyone involved. Ginge worked closely with Dr Jintanat Ananworanich to provide essential medical support to the children. The end of 2001 marked a turning point for BaanGerda when the children started to receive the ARV medicine. The community became a place to live, not to die.
Ginge is back in Thailand for her annual visit to BaanGerda, and she will be speaking at a seminar for 20 doctors on November 19th.
What made you volunteer?
There was no one there! Because someone had to!
The child that Karl and I had originally argued about when we first met at the hospice died a few weeks before I returned to Thailand. I knew that this child required medical attention that was not available to her through the normal channels. No one wanted to help AIDS babies at that time. It upset me terribly that we lost her, but it helped put things into perspective: there were lots and lots more who would suffer the same fate if we didn’t do something.
What were some of the biggest challenges?
It was 2001, there was no telephone line, there was no internet, there was a very intermittent mobile phone signal, there was no-one who spoke English. It was a very isolated existence. Sometimes the isolation was hard and lonely, but mostly it was great to be doing something that I knew was worthwhile. I also had many spare hours to read up about HIV treatment, paediatrics etc., and I suppose it was the start of the rest of my life (I’m now doing a PhD about paediatric HIV health policy in Thailand). We had some very tricky times, I was suddenly the manager of a project in a field of which I had no prior experience. There was plenty of scope for challenges. HIV was far more stigmatized then and we would get weekly visits of people coming to stare at the ‘poor AIDS children’ asking questions like ‘can you catch AIDS by touching them?’
Finding suitable parents was much more difficult than expected, sometimes even agonizing. We’ve had to deal with hot-tempered mothers throwing soup at each other, and at one time an alcoholic father. We learnt much from these experiences and acted accordingly. We had no fixed rules at the beginning and the time I spent there can be considered as a learning and preparation for an ongoing project.
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