Woman an 'open book' on HIV

Woman an 'open book' on HIV
Norlela Mokhtar

KUALA LUMPUR - HIV can elicit a variety of responses, but a social activist here who is HIV positive has decided that she will be an "open book" when it comes to the disease.

"As a person who is living for more than 13 years with HIV, I believe that my role here is to educate and raise awareness among the public, and try my best to shed the stigma about people living with HIV," said Norlela Mokhtar, 49, who decided to be part of the Human Library project.

"People are still discriminating and scared to approach us, but we want to give them a chance to get a glimpse of what we are facing every day," she said in an interview in conjunction with the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Queen's Baton Relay Fun Run and Children's Day Carnival at the Lake Gardens, here, yesterday.

The Human Library is an innovative method designed to promote dialogue, reduce prejudices and encourage understanding. The aim is to positively change people's attitudes and behaviour towards each other, especially towards groups that are traditionally discriminated against or marginalised.

Scope Group and Human Library Organi­sation co-founder Chris­toffer Erichsen said that he started the Human Library project 13 years ago with a group of friends who were running a social enterprise called The Stop Violence Movement.

"We were concerned about the escalation of violence at that time amongst youth and the increasing intolerance between different groups in society," he said.

According to Norlela, the most common and painful question that she received from the public during her interaction was how she managed to contract the disease.

"The hardest part is explaining how we get it. And after revealing it, they become empathetic towards us but we do not want that. We want to tell the story on how we survived the struggles of our daily lives," she said.

Another Human Library participant, Wan Set Peng, 35, who is the mother of special-abled child, said that she wanted to share her experience as a caregiver to those with special needs.

"Until now, some people still have the perception that parents who have children with special needs must have done something wrong in the past.

"Like all children, they should be defined by their talents, not their limitations. My message to other parents is - please do not keep them at home," she said.

Erichsen expressed hope for greater collaborations with the Government and other civil groups in a bid to hold more Human Library books session nationwide.

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