Saturday, January 19, 2008

Standing Up to the Challenge

Then and Now of AIDS Temple

Nestled in the foothill of mountains roughly 5 km from a main avenue, you can find a Buddhist Temple that brings the word compassion to life. Although the temple sits 120km north of Bangkok, in its confines all of Thailand is represented. Its reputation holds true to this statement, as the majority of Thais that learn of my project have made sure I know of its existence and location.

In 1992, the temple turned into a small 8 bed AIDS hospice after Buddhist monk Dr. Alongkot Dikkapanyo witnessed the death of an AIDS patient at a nearby hospital. The initial people that entered the temple were in the late stages of AIDS and had been abandoned by all they knew. Dr. Alongkot's goal was simple - provide solidarity through compassion and let the people pass with dignity. A simple goal was met with more than emotional costs.

It is tradition for buddhist monks to go into the streets with an empty bowl. In this bowl people put money or food that is then pooled together at the Temple to feed the monks. The people gain merits for their prayers, loved ones, and ancestors and in return the monks are provided with sustainance. Townspeople lacked any information about HIV and feared the idea of having an AIDS hospice set up in their area. Would the large corn fields that separate the temple from houses get the disease? Could we get the disease by getting close to Dr. Alongkot? As a result, no one put food in his bowl! The fear and task would normally appear daunting.

Through the hard work of the monks, none more than Dr. Alongkot, the temple has grown to 400 beds, 3 separate projects, and a source of pride for the town and Thais from around the country. Some even say that it is the best HIV/AIDS organization in the country and I am sure everyone will ask (just like I did), "What makes it so?". In two days I have learned the answer. For starters, the AIDS temple does treatment and prevention to the best of its ability while receiving the majority of its funds from private donations. It receives around $3000 from the government annually and yet has found a way to build quite a facility. The infirmary holds 33 beds, which includes an adjacent 6 bed TB wing, separate housing for HIV positive males and females, family style housing for couples, advocacy museums that see class trips and families as visitors, and a newly constructed orphans village located quite a distance from temple grounds. Now flash to Saturday January 19, 2008 and you will see people throughout the day coming in to drop off donations that range from rice, rubbing alcohol, and stuffed animals.

Coming Tomorrow: Volunteering in the AIDS Temple Infirmary

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