Flowers radiate hope and faith, but for the women of the Mai Tam Shelter in Vietnam, they also represent empowerment. “Mai Tam Creations” flower shop was launched by mothers and women living with HIV in Ho Chi Minh City. They manage the shop and benefit from its proceeds.
The shelter, which is run by the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City with funding from Caritas, provides care, medicines, and educational programmes to mothers and children with HIV. Many of the children are orphans.
Mai Tam was one of the first organisations in Vietnam to start anti-retroviral treatment for children with HIV. It was also one of the first programmes to integrate children with AIDS in Vietnam into regular nursery school programmes.
“It’s the place where I learned about AIDS, about the suffering of people with this disease,” said Francesca Merico, Caritas Internationalis delegate. “It also taught me that suffering can be avoided by following the examples of the Director Fr John Toai, the Sisters, the seminarians, and the volunteers at Mai Tam.”
Caritas holds workshops to help train the volunteers who work in the centre, it also collaborates with Fr John to ensure he is kept up to date with the latest innovations in AIDS treatment and care. Caritas supports other HIV projects in Vietnam and works to provide access to care and treatment as well as psychological and spiritual support for HIV-positive persons. It also sponsors treatment programmes for drug users, who are highly vulnerable to HIV infection.
In January 2008, Caritas held workshops and seminars in Ho Chi Minh City to boost the knowledge of Church workers regarding innovations in AIDS care. The workshops also highlighted the needs of children living with AIDS, focusing on how to advocate for greater access to medicines and on the promotion of the better use of medicines to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.