EDC staff in Thailand enlisted the help of local university students to bring greater public attention to the scope of the HIV/AIDS crisis in that country. In partnership with film students from Chulalongkorn University (Chula), project staff researched, wrote, and produced three short documentary films that report on factors contributing to the epidemic, the plight of children orphaned by it, and promising new community-based responses. This media education effort is just one piece of the Thailand HIV/AIDS Orphans project run by EDC’s Health and Human Developments Programs (HHD). It provides educational opportunities and support for local children orphaned by AIDS.
The students and project staff worked closely together to research the complex social factors contributing to the problem. Chula students went into communities and schools to conduct interviews, film activities, and interact with local residents—even spending the night in the homes of villagers to truly experience what their lives are like. This was an important learning experience for the students at the elite university who do not know the challenges faced by those in rural or less affluent areas.
“Mae Suai [a Thai village] is so far removed physically from Bangkok, and yet with the problem of HIV and AIDS, now I can see how connected we all are,” said Chula student Naiyaporn Jantaranives.
“The students were truly great – hard-working, intelligent, and disciplined,” commented HHD Project Officer Chutarat Wongsuwon. “The villagers really appreciated the students’ compassion on these sensitive issues.”
The 11 Chula students who participated in the project separated into three teams. The first team studied the reasons behind the proliferation of HIV and AIDS in Thailand. Their findings showed that the spread was related, in part, to labor migration from villages to the cities, as poor and marginalized people search for better lives. As the villagers reach urban centers like Bangkok and Chiang Mai to seek their fortunes, they often turn to sex work or drug use, behaviors that put them at risk for contracting HIV and AIDS.
The second team focused on exploring HHD’s HIV and AIDS prevention projects in local communities. One group focused on HHD’s Peer Education program, in which youth from local communities inform their peers about HIV and AIDS prevention and safe-sex practices. After being trained by HHD project staff, the Peer Educators hold media broadcasts on school radio on the topic, and give teaching sessions where they discuss HIV transmission risk factors. “It is incredible to see how these young students can have a big impact in their community. They make us think of how we can also contribute to the society,” said Chula student Thanapol Chaowanich.
The third team examined the lives of children whose parents have died of AIDS. The majority of these children live with their grandparents, and the Chula students studied the relationships between the generations, ways to bridge the generational divide, and the challenges the families face in terms of eking out a living without a primary breadwinner.
When all of the field research was completed, the students and staff created three 15-minutes documentary films designed to be viewed as a series or independently. The first film’s purpose is to educate the public on transmission risk factors, life skills to prevent HIV, and safer migration; the second details the Peer Education program; and the third covers the generational issues of the orphans and their grandparents. Project staff hope that the films will be picked up by Thailand’s national educational television so they can reach local communities.
The films have enjoyed early screening at Thai film festivals, with the film portraying generational issues selected for the Thai Non-governmental Organizational Film Festival. EDC and Chula plan to distribute the films more broadly through the Chulalongkorn film festival and others in Bangkok and beyond. Eventually, the films will be used as part of broader educational modules currently in development.
“The project is a great opportunity for Chulalongkorn students to work in the field and to learn more about the HIV and AIDS issue that has long been part of Thai society. They have gained social consciousness and were challenged on how they can make a difference in the society through their careers as film makers and media professionals,” said Chula film teacher Sopawan Boonnimitra.
This media project is a part of the Southeast Asia Initiative of EDC’s Health and Human Development Program. It is located in Bangkok and is funded by Deutsche Bank.
Originally published on April 30, 2007