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Faith in the Future: UNICEF Centre Supports Children with HIV
In a cosy room of the Tashkent Day Care Centre, Mastura sits with a psychologist. By now she is comfortable in these meetings, expressing herself freely with the professional. They chat as others play in the comfortable space, which includes a range of activities that appeal to young children and adolescents.
Mastura, a 13-year-old with long hair and doe eyes, has a deceptively fragile appearance but possesses a determined spirit beyond her years and stature. She recalls when she first learned of her illness: “When I was 8 years old, my mother discovered my diagnosis. Then I started taking the medicine when I was 9 years old. A year later, my mother and a school psychologist shared my HIV-positive status with me. I did not cry.”
Mastura soon started visiting the Day Care Centre, where she and her mother learned more about the diagnosis and how to stay healthy. “UNICEF helped me tune into the positive, to familiarize myself with the rules of treatment and diet… I have been taking the medicine for four years, and I feel good.”
The Centre, created with UNICEF Uzbekistan’s support, serves as a hub of social, psychological, and medical treatment for children living with HIV/AIDS and their families. Staff and volunteers offer holistic services in a positive, child-friendly environment. Children receive classes, build relationships with their peers, visit doctors and social workers, and engage in creative activities like art therapy.
Children share their challenges and successes with their fellow patients, forming close bonds that empower them to persevere despite their status. Their eyes are lively as they listen to and encourage each other. “In the Centre I have met the children like me; I heard their stories. We understand each other,” Mastura said. Therapy equips the children and their families to cope with the ignorance and rejection they can face. “The sessions help us feel more comfortable talking and dealing with other children who do not have such a diagnosis.”
Mastura now uses what she has learned to help tap into that natural resilience in other children. "Here, in Day Care Centre, I help younger children and peers to accept their status and cope with it, and get information on how to live with this diagnosis. Unfortunately, some people cannot accept those who live with HIV. Together with UNICEF specialists we are trying to destroy these stereotypes among all who are facing this problem. I have the interesting life of a [normal] teenager. Quilling is my hobby. I like to make flowers. They are as bright and beautiful as life itself."
She has helped organize events at the Centre celebrating International Children’s Day, World AIDS Day, and Navruz [New Year]. She believes in fighting despair with literature, music, and art. The impact is plain to see. Visiting the Centre helps children like Mastura become stronger and more confident to overcome the barriers and stigma related to their status.
Mastura's situation illustrates the consequences of the lack of public awareness about the disease. But it also proves the vital role that support services can play to enrich the lives and protect the rights of children living with HIV/AIDS. After all, everyone deserves an equal opportunity to a happy childhood.
"There are no hopeless situations; I believe in science, people, myself. No need to cry,” reflects Mastura. “We are children like everyone else. We have our own dreams and aspirations, our favourite books and toys, parents who love us. I think that people need to know more about this virus. It will help to establish relations in the world and to prevent new infections. We all believe in goodness and triumph.”