First-ever Interactive Workshop for the Tibetan People Living with HIV/AIDS (TPLHA)
March 30 & 31, 2011 – McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, H.P. India
(Organized jointly by Dept of Health, CTA & CHOICE—HIV/AIDS Initiatives)
The First ever Interactive Workshop for the Tibetan People Living with HIV/AIDS (commonly termed TPLHA) concluded successfully on March 31, 2011 here at McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, H.P. The participants for the conference were from the Tibetan settlements of Mundgod Duegoling, Mainpat Phedeling, Bylakuppe Dicky Lharso, Dolangji Bhonshi and Dharamshala. The Workshop was jointly organized by Department of Health, CTA and CHOICE-HIV/AIDS Initiative.
This historic Workshop was successful with voluntary participation of 9 TPLHA individuals who are HIV victims from five different settlements across the country joining hand with organizers with a pledge and commitment to contribute their part in halting the disease from further spread in the Tibetan communities in exile and coordinating care and support programmes.
This historic Interactive Workshop was the brain child of Health Kalon Mr. Chope Paljor Tsering of Dept. of Health, CTA and CHOICE-HIV/AIDS Initiative contributed its support to organize and coordinate the workshop following series of meetings and discussion with the concerned officials of the Health Dept.
The primary aim and objectives behind this Interactive Workshop was to give a platform to those HIV positive individuals or families who had suffered umpteenth discrimination and humiliations being HIV positive status in their respective community to live a healthy and respectable life through a mutual friendship, cooperation and support amongst theTPLHAs, listening to their testimony and encouraging each others etc in overcoming the difficulties. The workshop also aimed in formulating future policy advocacy basing on the testimonies given by the participants and creating solutions to overcome the problems that still prevails in Tibetan communities.
On 29th of March, all the delegates reached Dharamshala as they were guided and escorted by Mr. Lobsang Yeshi, (CHOICE co-founder/ Board Member and South India coordinator) from their respective settlements from south India.
On the eve of the historic workshop, team of CHOICE and the participants hold a warm-up and orientation session in the evening whereby Mr. Phuntsok Chomphel (Exe. Secretary and Project Officer of CHOICE) briefed about the two days programs and had an informal discussion regarding the workshop and the expectations of the TPLHA etc.
Day 1 – Wednesday, March 30
The morning session of the First day of the Interactive workshop was kept for advisory talks by the resource speakers. The deputy secretary of the Dept of Health Ms. Kalsang Lhamo begin the session by introducing the Honorable Minister of Health, CTA, Mr. Chope Paljor Tsering and Health Secretary Mr. Phasur Wangchuk to the participants. Continuing the session Health Minister asked the participants to give their introduction before his welcoming speech.
Health minister Mr. Chope Paljor Tsering in his welcome speech briefed the participants about the aims and objective of the Workshop and the significant role of TPLHA in making the workshop successful through voluntary initiative from the Individuals living with HIV/AIDS. Mr. Chope stressed on the taking care of one’s health while dealing with others in the community. He also elaborates the privileged services provided to the TPLHA by the Dept. of Health through which the TPLHA can acquire the benefit of living healthy and longer life.
Mr. Chope urged the participants on adherence on Highly Active Anti-retroviral Therapy (HAART) while TPLHA can also seek alternative therapy from Tibetan medicine that while boosting the immune system, also help greatly in reducing the side effects that comes along with Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART).
Most importantly, Mr. Chope advised the participants/ TPLHA in forming Union or Network of HIV Positive People (KYI-DUG in Tibetan) in their respective settlements whether among themselves or in collaboration with CHOICE or with Dept. of Health. He also promises of every possible support from the department including providing the seed money etc. Mr. Chope believes community mobilization with such initiative will create more awareness and in understanding the issue and reducing the attached vices of stigma and discrimination.
Meanwhile Mr. Chope gave beautiful example of ‘sick but not sick’ meaning while TPLHA have to take medication but there is no apparent sufferings if one takes good care of one’s health. He stressed that it is therefore the mental peace that matters the most and how we must persuade living the life positively that help at the last.
Health Minister on his conclusion remarks asked the participants to draft a resolution and testimonies of the participants where Department can study the problems and as well as formulate means to overcome the problems faced by individuals living with HIV/AIDS.
Followed by Minister’s speech, Honorable Health Secretary Mr. Phasur Wangchuk added the potential role of the individual living with HIV/AIDS that till now are unaware of how their minor participation will help other TPLHA who feared coming out in the surface and accepting their status.
Ms. Pema Norkyi, a Clinical Psychology graduate from MS University of Baroda further structured the importance of daily positive thinking help reducing the mental stress for instance reading spiritual books, thinking of good days of life etc. before bed will help in realizing a peaceful and sound sleep resulting in the mental peace.
This was followed by advisory talk by Dr. Tsering Tsomo, resident doctor of McLeod Ganj branch of Tibetan Medical & Astrological Institute (TMAI). Dr. Tsomo in her speech read out the description, understanding and guidelines of the HIV/AIDS charted by by TMAI. Dr. Tsomo speaking on Tibetan medicine give significance on diet and conduct of individuals before diagnoses any treatment or medication. Therefore she told the participants about the personal hygiene and diet and nutrition especially HIV infection.
In her length of speech she named certain Tibetan medicines that helps in regaining health and suppressing the virus at certain levels viz., Da-Due, Ga-Ney, Ne-la, Chi-Sen, Ga-16 and precious pills (Rinchen Rilbu) as Manjor and Drangjor etc. Dr. Tsomo advised that while consuming the precious pill TPLHA must avoid alcohols and meat atleast for two days before and after for better response from the pills. Like others Dr. Tsomo emphasis on avoiding the spread of the HIV virus infection through virtuous conducts.
After tea break the session continued with advisory talk on western medicine and how to cope and live positively and healthy with HIV/AIDS by Dr. Yangzom Dolkar from Tibetan Delek hospital. Dr. Yangzom Dolkar in her initial speech thanked the Health Dept. for providing the opportunity to speak face to face with HIV positive people and also thanked the participants for their courage showing up and participation in this historic Interactive Workshop.
Dr. Yangzom Dolkar first spoke on global epidemic to the stages of HIV/AIDS and CD4 counts. She stressed on importance of accepting being HIV positive and have complete adherence to HAART to lead healthy and longer life. Dr. Dolkar in her talk also include the Opportunistic Infection (OIs) like Pneumonia, TB, Skin infection, Oral Candidacies, Fever etc. that occurs while level of CD4 counts lower and Viral load shoot high. She gave some basic tips on home based remedies to overcome OIs and management of side effects related to the ART. She also focused on extra food and nutrition supplements and proper diet required for PLHA compare to normal person with different examples.
During the session, one participant asked an interesting question on having a desire to bear a child despite both the husband and wife being an HIV positive. The prompt answer came from another participant who recently went through same condition of bearing a child with a fear of child becoming HIV positive. They were left with no option except delivering the baby with proper guidelines made by the doctor and fortunately their baby came out sero-negative. He then suggests the fellow participant that it is good to give birth to a child but at same time one has to think about the child’s future.
To add on Health Minister’s concern the slow birth rate of Tibetan population in exile which is a grave issue but at same time he remark that one have to think about child secure future if both the parents are HIV positive also there are still little changes of getting infection to new born baby. The Health Minister in a lighter moment advised the participant that “you can tell your friends that though I am not able to but for the sake of Tibet you should give birth to more children”. The Health Minister exclaim the need to increase the population in our community and clarifies that DoH promotes condom use only to save Tibetan from sexual transmitted infections (STI/STD) like HIV/AIDS. DoH motives are not to control child birth, and Dept. of Health will be overjoyed if there will be increase in exile population.
Supporting the Health minister remarks, Mr. Lobsang yeshi shared his experience of one such incident where after HIV/AIDS awareness workshop given to the school kids, one of the community leader publically discouraged the use of condom in a gathering reasoning school kids are not required such education that clearly show low level of understanding on the issues among the responsible people in the communities.
After healthy vegetarian lunch, whole afternoon session was kept for the participants in sharing their testimony and share personal experiences. The session was important in nature that while listening to each other’s experience and views, one can realize how best to help each other and come out with a concrete solution that would help other people living with HIV/AIDS. During the workshop, almost all of the participants had gone through same problem of being stigmatized and social discrimination in their respective settlements with such moving and pathetic stories.
An interesting issue arises when one of the positive shared about his relationship with fellow HIV positive people in his settlement and how they work for each other and occasional meeting sort of small network among themselves. Before attending this Workshop, he said he visited few of co-patients and briefed them about the workshop and sought their experience and personal messages.
The following session was chaired by Health Minister listening to each of the participants about their stories. The Minister also asked the participants to put down their stories on paper without mentioning their names and addresses so that Dept. can circulate it to all the settlements about the problems faced by HIV positive so to overcome the discrimination in future. This will not only help people to know cases but also encourage other TPLHA who fear of coming out on open and also mobilize more people will go for HIV testing.
After listening to all the participants Health minister told the organizing committee to draft the testimonies of the cases studies so that how best dept. of Health further support the families infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Day 2 – Wednesday, March 30
During second day the delegation for the workshop were took for excursion visit to Norbulingka, Gyutoe Tantric Monastery in the morning and short visit to Tibetan Govt. in Exile buildings, Nechung monastery and Tsuk-Lak-Khang complex in the afternoon. The delegation was let by Mr. Lobsang Yeshi from CHOICE and Ms. Kalsang Lhamo from Dept. of Health.
CHOICE—HIV/AIDS Initiative is immensely grateful to Dept. of Health for outsourcing the Workshop budget. CHOICE also wishes to extend sincere gratitude to Health Minsiter Mr. Choepe Paljor Tsering, Health Secretary, and Mr. Phasur Wangchuk, Deputy Secretary Ms. Kalsang Lhamo, Dealing officer Mr. Lobsang Dhargye and all other staffs of Dept. of Health for their tremendous support in making this historic Interactive Workshop successful.
CHOICE also acknowledge the never ending valuable support of beloved Board Member/ Co-founder and South India coordinator Mr. Lobsang Yeshi for escorting the Participants from their settlement through and forth.
At same time, CHOICE would like to thank all the participants for their courage in attending the Workshop despite their critical health Issues.
Last but not the least, CHOICE sincerely thanks Pema-Thang guest house in renting the rooms and conference hall without any sign of discrimination..
In our endeavor, we will always remain indebted to the encouragement and advice of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who believes that we as Tibetans must be open and receptive to the HIV/AIDS crisis.