From fear to empathy: An Aids volunteer's story

SINGAPORE - Ms Caroline Fernandez, 46, says she stumbled into volunteering with Action for Aids in the 1990s after she acted in a play about HIV.

Then a freelance actress, she says part of the role immersion process involved having to go to an anonymous HIV- testing site to get herself tested.

"I didn't want to tell the taxi driver where I was going," she recalls. She alighted nearby and walked to the centre instead.

From her own self-consciousness, she started to understand the fears that HIV/Aids patients experience as they make their way to the site in Kelantan Lane.

When she got there, she met someone she knew who was going to get tested. "That was so disconcerting, to realise that the disease affects people I know," she adds.

After that, she got in touch with Action for Aids volunteers and also wrote an article on Paddy Chew, the first Aids sufferer here who publicly declared his condition.

Before long, she was volunteering in Action for Aids' Buddies Programme. "I was impressed by its efforts to fight stigma and to make others understand," she says.

Now an assistant director at NTUC Enterprise, she started going to the Communicable Disease Centre to visit HIV/Aids patients.

Again, she initially felt extremely uncomfortable telling cabbies her destination. "Thinking back, I feel so ashamed," the singleton says.

She also had fears that she would catch the disease, no matter how unfounded she knew they were. But as she interacted with the patients, encouraging them with words and touch therapy, her worries dissipated.

"I sensed their pain and need for love," she says. "When I saw the doctors and nurses doing so much more for them than what I was doing, the fear went away."


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