Friday, 03 December 2010 05:55
From ABC Radio Australia: December 1, World AIDS Day: To listen to the audio broadcast, please visit here. Full text below:

This Wednesday the world will mark World Aids Day. Observed on the first of December each year since 1987, the day is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. Between 1981 and 2007, AIDS has killed more than 25 million people and there an estimated 33 million people living with HIV, thousands of those are children. In Bangkok's slum community of Klong Toey, sixty children are all HIV positive are cared for at the Mercy clinic, many of them are orphaned or abandoned.

Presenter: Ron Corben
Speakers: Father Joseph Maier, Catholic priest at Mercy Clinic; Miss Chutima and Miss Watcharee, Mercy Clinic workers; Prawina Sompong, the Centre's communications officer

CORBEN: The sounds of children returning from a school day in Bangkok's slum community of Klong Toey.

Full of energy and play as most children anywhere.

But these are special children.

Each one is part of a community of 60 children at a clinic and orphanage of the Mercy Centre. Some are orphaned and some are not but abandoned by families but all are positive with the AIDS virus.

Father Joseph Maier, a Catholic priest who has spent over 30 years working in slum community says even as new medications extend the children's lives, challenges remain such as hopes of reunite children and families.

MAIER: The new meds are coming out. We hope our children and can live longer. And we want to get the Mum's and Dad's together who have AIDS and their children so they get to know each other. So this is the new task force - our children whose mums and dads and relatives have AIDS so they know about this and they will be AIDS friendly and tolerant and grown up. All of our AIDS kids go to school, to ordinary schools and it's just super.

CORBEN: In Thailand from an AIDS population of over 600,000 more than 14,000 are children under 15 years of age. But behind the statistics the children often have been orphaned - their parents dying from AIDS, abandoned and have faced discrimination. All the children at the Centre attend school at private Buddhist and Catholic schools to avoid discrimination.

Miss Chutima, a worker at the Centre for 18 years, says the children hope for the same opportunities available to other children.

MISS CHUTIMA: For the children, every child that they have rights in their own age and she wants that they have the chance like opportunity like the other kids because they are the age that can go to school, can go everywhere. What they want to go and they have dreams, they dream to be a doctor, they dream to be a nurse or policemen and that they hope their dreams come true.

CORBEN: Miss Watcharee, another staff member, says for many of the children who have faced emotional neglect they look for love.

MISS WATCHAREE: I think the children look for the love for the hug. First time for children in here sometime you can see when I go to ...she wants a hug, she wants to.

CORBEN: "Boat" - a nickname -- is a 17 year old boy who has relied on anti-retroviral medication since he was nine. Both his parents died from AIDS. But is a sportsman training each week at the Korean art of self defence, Tae Kwon Do. I asked him if he felt 'special' because of his condition.

BOAT: He feels normal. He feels the same. But one thing is only that he has to take the medicine on time and he can stay with (he didn't say about HIV Aids) but he said that the he can stay with it and he has to have discipline like to take the medicine on time and he knows what he is going to do.

CORBEN: For Boat the Mercy Centre is his family that gives him emotion support and security. But for these children the tough issue of life and death are too often a reality they have to face. Each group has a 'house mother' who tends to the children.

Prawina Sompong, the Centre's communications officer, says there is even a simple ritual when one of the children is dying.

PRAWINA: Before the child dies at the Mercy Centre they will be in the arms of the house mother and their friends will sit around them, just like quiet, peace before they die. They understand and they know it's going to happen to them. We let them think everyone in the world is going to die. But for today, what they can do is focus on today, try to make a better life in the future. It's very hard to understand but for the children with the tough situation they can handle it. So the kids at the Mercy Centre they are very strong - not only their body their heart too. They can go to school they can face the problem.