She has a busy schedule, so after repeated requests, we finally met Khuat Thi Hai Oanh at the SCDI’s office. We started our interview with her from her turning- point decision to pursue the cause of community health development, a field quite new in Vietnam at that time. She said, “Clinical physicians treat patients one by one. Meanwhile a good community health programme, a good policy can save a lot of people and improve their lives. For such reasons, I left the hospital to work as a health programme official for an American Non-Governmental Organisation, with the target subjects being the ethnic minority people in the regions bordering on Laos”.
Doctor Khuat Thi Hai Oanh at the SCDI Centre. Photo: SCDI
Doctor Khuat Thi Hai Oanh exchanges ideas with colleagues at the SCDI’s office. Photo:Viet Cuong/VNP
In 2001, Oanh and her collaborators won a bid for the national AIDS Prevention and Combat Program evaluation project, which brought her into contact with HIV-infected persons and groups of people looked down upon by society such as sex workers or drug users. “Such an evaluation created a big change in my life as that was the first time I actually understood how people were prejudiced against in society. Formerly, I did nothing but live as an exemplary citizen,” Oanh recalled.
That was why Oanh and various groups built up community networks in support of HIV-infected people to overcome fear and bias and to enhance the possibility to access the treatment by ARV (a medicine prepared which suppresses the HIV virus). Oanh not only helped HIV-infected persons access the productive healthcare and perceive HIV/AIDS among highly vulnerable groups in Vietnam, but also regularly advised the Government on coping with the drug use situation in Vietnam. Having acknowledged her contributions, the World Economic Forum recognisedOanh as “2009’s Global Young Leader”.
In 2010, she founded the Centre for Support of Community Development Initiative (SCDI), a non-profit and non-governmental organisation, focusing on promoting human rights and creation of favourable environments for the disadvantaged in society to live a normal life and contribute to society.
“The subjects of our services are social outsiders, the vulnerable, the sex workers, drug users, homosexuals, trans-gender people and their families and children,” confided Oanh.
The latest training course for sex workers on “my body, my rights” was jointly organised by the SCDI and Binh Minh Dem (Night Dawn) group. The course focused on 12 subjects, including exercises to enhance self-esteem, the fundamentals on HIV/AIDS and safety to reduce pain.
Besides the sex workers, SCDI also provided operational support as well as financial and technical assistance for community networks in support of drug users, homosexuals, trans-gender people, their children, prisoners, and orphans. The networks are organisations relying on local communities, thus creating the presence of community organisations in connection with SCDI in more than 40 provinces and cities nationwide.
Khuat Thi Hai Oanh with colleagues and youngsters at a field trip. Photo: SCDI
Earlier in 2007, Oanh was the founder of the Social Forum for Civil Cooperation in Aids Prevention and Combat (VCSPA), with the participation of nearly 400 community organisations throughout the country, including self-help groups of drug users, sex workers, HIV-infected people, homosexuals and trans-gender people. Once a year, the forum becomes “a home” for all people to come and to have the opportunity to be themselves among people of the same plights, without any criticism or judgment. “We stay together, feeling happy, laughing, talking, crying and doing things together. People speak of the annual get-together like coming home, where they feel it’s like living with a family,” said Oanh, sharing her emotions about the VCSPA home.
Quietly doing her work, Oanh and the SCDI have changed the lives of thousands of disadvantaged Vietnamese people. She has created an environment where the most vulnerable people self-confidently express themselves and make contributions to society in their own ways. Perhaps, these good results have given her more energy to continue her work tirelessly. Yet, immediately after her meeting with us, Oanh continued her journey to the Vietnam – Cambodia border regions to continue the program fighting malaria for children in these difficult areas ./.