World AIDS Day: How Harmony Home & Nkosi’s Haven are dedicated to help HIV positive people
World AIDS Day takes place on 1 December each year. It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first-ever global health day.
We were lucky enough to have an insightful conversation with Nicole Yang, Founder, Harmony Home, Taiwan and Gail Johnson, Director, Nkosi’s Haven, based in Johannesburg South Africa, who are committed to providing shelter, care, treatment access and support for people living with and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Taiwan.
Could you please tell us about your nonprofit and how do you work with your beneficiaries?
A: Gail – I run a nonprofit called Nkosi’s Haven, (named after the young AIDS activist, Nkosi Johnson, my foster son, who passed away from an AIDS related disease in 2001) which is a long-term residential care centre for destitute, special needs HIV/ AIDS infected mothers, children, and AIDS orphans. The only criteria of admission is the mum has to be HIV positive. We are also targeting gender-based violence survivors.
At the peak of the pandemic in S.A. there was little or no support system for HIV+ women (who were the most vulnerable) and children orphaned by AIDS were shunned by extended family members and not readily absorbed into the family network. Hence, if a mother passed away, Nkosi’s Haven became the ‘extended family, for the resulting orphans. As a good education is all the children are going to inherit, education became odne of our prime objecttives. So started as a unit where we educate our kids and prepare them for a better future. I’ve had one or two honours students. I’ve got moms employed internally; they run the kitchen, the bakery, and all types of other jobs. And we have a farm down the road where we produce vegetables. We are a community of women and children.
Nicole – I founded Harmony Home in 1986 because I had a friend who got AIDS. I started taking care of him as a first case. Till now, we have spent over 35 years providing service to the people living with HIV and AIDS. We accept patients from new-born to 90 years old. We give them every help needed like education, healthcare, job, and many more.
We have made it our mission. In Taiwan we have two shelters capacity of 100 people operating round the clock. We have nurses, educators, and various other trained people to get them through this tough time. Indeed, we have faced our share of challenges in terms of money and changing people’s dynamics because it’s a very labour-intensive task.
What were the challenges you faced in the light of the pandemic?
A: Gail – We all went into the lockdown before the government told us to do so because all our moms are HIV positive, and some kids have pre-existing core morbidities. So, we had to set up a rigorous protocol to protect them. We got a sanitizing channel and a minimum of one sanitizing place washing the little toddlers and allocated three quarantine rooms for those who did get infected.
It hit us like a ton of bricks, but no one was seriously ill. So, we set up the quarantine, and the teenagers were helping carry the food. We also faced many financial challenges. We were in trouble because our international donors had to cut their budgets. So, while COVID has been very depressing, and the children have suffered, we were able to get through that without experiencing any severe illness
Allen – We faced many challenges, such as the operational costs, especially under the circumstances of Covid 19. Our social workers are caregivers who must go back and forth between their homes and the workplace, and they are working under a lot of mental stress because their families live with them and they’ve to take care of the patients as well.
Our patients also felt anxious because they couldn’t go out anywhere and loneliness and boredom catalysed the process. It was a hard time for Harmony Home, but we survived to the best of our abilities.
What are a few things you wish people knew about AIDS?
A: Gail – The first thing myth is that it’s a death sentence. It’s not. It’s a manageable chronic disease, as long as you test and know about it early on. If you test positive, you get onto your medication, and you stick to it judiciously. At present you might have to be on medication for the rest of your life because there is no cure.
Teenagers who’ve been infected from birth start rebelling around the age of 15 or 16. They feel there is no point in taking medication as they will die anyway, so why should they care about anything.
We need to change the thought process around being HIV positive. It is not a death sentence.
Allen – First, many people in Taiwan think only gay people get AIDS. Secondly, having meals together with an HIV person will affect them, which is wrong. COVID-19 is more infectious and threatening compared to AIDS. We will never be sure when we will eliminate the discrimination or the fear of people toward HIV.
And this is the issue that we are still working on. Thankfully, many younger people are trying to understand the transmission of HIV, and the more they know, the less fear or less discrimination they get toward HIV people.
What are the different ways in which people can help your nonprofits ?
A: Gail – Firstly, the mere fact that people are willing to work with people with HIV and can remain uninfected is a lesson to the public.
Also, more and more people need to get involved because each of us require some form of support no matter who we are. Be a rape survivor, HIV-positive, or a cancer patient, we all need a shoulder or a hand. It can be the hand with a massive check or someone who just mowed the garden. People need to carry on educating themselves. The way to get involved for anyone without fear is to learn how you can get HIV AIDS.
Any final message for your potential volunteers who might be reading this interview?
A: Allen – We believe what we do is valuable and it’s worth getting recognized in society. Also, we would like to work more with other nonprofits in Taiwan to beat this stigma and discrimination against HIV and AIDS.
We want to get more public awareness on the internet, mainly because the younger generations get more access to the internet than the traditional media.
Our next step in the future is to get exposed to the right message and the correct information so we can connect with the younger generation who is more aware and educated about HIV, and hopefully, the stigma and discrimination will become less visible in the next few years.
Thank you, Gail, Nicole and Allen
HIV continues to be a significant global public health issue. In 2019 an estimated 38 million people were living with HIV (including 1.8 million children), with a global HIV prevalence of 0.7% among adults. Around 19% of these people (7.1 million) do not know that they have the virus. These are huge numbers, and we all need to come together to defeat this Goliath in the long run.
Celebrate World AIDS Day with Harmony Home, Nkosi’s Haven and Goodera
Goodera empowers nonprofits such as Harmony Home and Nkosi’s Haven through brand advocacy, fundraising, and long-term volunteers.
We hope that this interview helped you to really understand the importance of HIV education in our society. We need to understand it with a logical and pragmatic approach rather than fear and doubt.
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