Mid-2008. The day was like any other Sunday. But the church service that day was a bit different: a group of children, accompanied by a number of teenagers and young adults, including the ones carrying some infants, came up to perform a song and a poem. These children were not like any other “vocal groups”. They came from different backgrounds, with different religions. They stood in front to tell us that they have HIV/AIDS and that they are not afraid to live. The two small boys who read the poem said that they are actually also common children, who – like any other children – like to play, have fun, learn, and be loved. They said they didn’t want our pity; they just want to be recognized. Not to be avoided, but to be treated indiscriminately.
I sat at the very front row and I lied to you if I didn’t admit that I was deeply moved. I couldn’t get my mind off their looks and their words, and I had this urge to do something about it. So young, yet so brave, despite the difficulties they would face ahead. I let it sunk until something came to me: in The Netherlands, a foundation called Teken Mijn Verhaal (Draw My Story) arranges a collaboration between renown (Dutch) comics artists and diffable children, where each artist is coupled with a child, to create a story about the child. About her dreams, her wishes, her fantasies, etc. The stories are then compiled and published into a book, of which sales are donated to the foundation. I intended to produce similar publication, but for these children with HIV/AIDS!
By then I just co-founded a small independent publishing company that concentrates on graphic diary genre, which fits the plan. I searched the contact person from the foundation (that brought the kids to perform at church the other day) to get a permission and assistance for the stories. I asked several artists-friends, who expressed different reactions. They were all basically into it, and were willing to contribute (as this is a no-payment job), but they face a similar obstacle: anxiety. One even said that he might not be able to hold his tears if he had to face his child-partner, knowing that she has AIDS. All in all, I and my business partner managed to gather a number of friends who would participate. Since there were time and space limit, we never did meet those children in person again. Instead, we have the foundation gathered data and stories of the children (all of which we still keep confidentially). The artists then chose a child from the data, and each created a four-page based on the characters of the child, his/her hobbies, favorite food, experiences, and so on. After a relatively speedy process, we had the book launched on December 28, 2009. The title is “Berbagi Hidup” (Sharing Life), taken from the name of the foundation that took care of these children. We gave the whole batch of books to the foundation, not for sale, but to give to people who donate. After all, it contains their own stories.
It’s a pity that we were getting gradually uncomfortable in working with the foundation, and decided not to continue our collaboration after the project ended [for whoever is curious, a bit is explained in the FAQ file in this post, in Indonesian: KABH_FAQ]. My thoughts still go to those children, especially on Dec 1, today, being the World AIDS Day. I’m actually looking forward to work with a new partner for a similar project; a community where children and teenagers with HIV/AIDS gathered and shared their joys, their sorrows, and their lives.
It has been about two years since this book was published, and current media technology has made it possible for us to acquire so many news; much more than we are able to absorb. However, a significant incident caught the eyes of most Internet users in Indonesia today, on the very day for AIDS awareness. A school expelled a child based on the reason that the child’s father is HIV positive, although the child herself is not. I remember the father of being a fellow participant of The Climate Project Asia Pacific Summit in Jakarta, January 2011, who told his amazing story at that event about his condition. Now, upon having his daughter discriminated, he vows to stand for his rights and plans to sue the school. I don’t think I need to elaborate on that issue since most (Indonesian-Internet) people have already been doing a lot for support. However, this incident also urged me to reminisce the project I mentioned earlier, and strengthen my desire to work on a similar project one day. Especially for the sake of eliminating the stigma, and ‘educating’ our paranoid society. Wish everyone a great reminiscence of people with HIV/AIDS, their struggles, their courage, and hopes for a healthier life.
Concerning the incident, the elementary school mentioned above eventually apologized and accepted the girl, and even held a workshop about HIV/AIDS especially for teachers and parents. This attitude deserves an applause.