Ed note. At the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC last week, activists and policy makers rightly focused on the need to fight HIV among a particularly high risk group: injecting drug users (IDU). This post, from Ms. Liu Rong, Hu Xiang Hao Ba Peer Educator explains how one program for injecting drug users in China helped turned her life around. It originally appeared on PSI’s Global Health Impact blog
My dad is a police officer. My behavior had, of course, made my dad lose face in the eyes of his co-workers. They would talk about him behind his back and say things like, “A narcotics officer’s daughter is a drug user! How embarrassing!” It must have been so hard for him to endure that kind of treatment from his fellow officers, to say nothing of how his superiors must have viewed him. I must have put him through hell. But at that time, of course, I had no idea the kind of damage I was doing.
I had tried to quit many times by myself, but I was never successful. Every time I tried to quit it didn’t last very long…I would all too quickly end up starting using again. Even though my dad had never kicked me out of the house, our relationship had become tense, cold, and indifferent. Before I started using drugs, we were really close. I had thought of my dad so highly. My dad was my hero, and he used to call me his beautiful little princess.
In the time before I quit using drugs, I didn’t understand why my actions hurt my parents so much. At that time, I only saw them as an ATM machine, a way to get money for my habit. Now, when I look back on the way I behaved, I realize how cruel, unfeeling, selfish, and loathsome I was.
Nine years ago, after another attempt to quit, I came to PSI/China’s Huxianghao (HXH) Ba Drop-in Center for help and talk to a peer educator. HXH Ba is the center to provide HIV prevention services for injecting drug users in the whole of Yunnan province in China. I studied how harm is brought about by drug use, and also how to communicate this knowledge to others. Since I was also hurt from abusing drugs, I shared all of my own experiences, including contracting Hepatitis,with my peers in order so that they can learn through me and stay far away from the damage that can come from this kind of behavior. I worked hard to get acceptance from my peers, and after 9 years, I have not only helped over 4,000 people handle the adversity brought about by addiction, but I have finally completely given up using drugs. Unfortunately, some of those people that I have spoken with had already contracted HIV or Hepatitis. If you ask me, if HXH Ba existed a little earlier, and those people had the opportunity to hear my story sooner, then maybe they wouldn’t have been infected. Their situation makes me upset, because I know that I could have prevented it. You can be sure that now I am resolved to give 110% and to try my hardest to prevent every single case of HIV infection, Hepatitis, or any other disease from being transmitted.
This year, our HXH Ba is undergoing a major transition from a USAID-supported 2 program to a local IDU community based organization. I have taken what I have learned from my work at HXH Ba in the past, together with our team, to develop programs to help IDUs in my own community. From being a peer educator, I have become an important member of my community influencing positive changes. I have good news too: we have just received our first funding from the Global Fund in June 2012.
Dearest father, I will never again cause you shame. Your beautiful little princess has come back.