CHIANG MAI, Thailand

Of the more than 65 million people living in Thailand, just over 9 percent are living with HIV/AIDS. Of those, 14,000 are children under the age of 15.

Brett and Shelly Faucett, members of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA, were sent to Chiang Mai, Thailand in August of 2007 as part of the Mission Initiative: Joining Hearts and Hands campaign of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Brett Faucett, a registered nurse and certified instructor of HIV/AIDS education, is also an avid photographer. He decided to put his passion for photography and his call to work with the Church of Christ in Thailand AIDS Ministry (CAM) together.

In addition to helping CAM staff with English correspondence, Faucett also accompanies them on site visits to the people living with the effects of HIV/AIDS in the local community of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is located in the northern region of Thailand — once considered the cultural and religious center of the country. Far from the hectic chaos of the streets of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is surrounded by mountains, where many hill tribe people live.

“The Rev. Sanan Wutti, director for CAM, saw a need in the community to reach out to young people who were either infected with HIV or were caretakers for family members who had HIV,” Faucett said. “The largest increase in HIV transmission is presently being seen with young people aged 12 and upward. Rev. Sanan wanted to provide a constructive outlet to the young people affected by HIV/AIDS.”

Thus, the photo project began to take shape.

Because CAM does home visits and works with the kids in the surrounding villages, the group was able to identify 20 people to participate in this yearlong project in creativity, building photo albums to interpret the reality of HIV/AIDS here.

“I hope that the photo project acts as a catalyst to create greater community awareness of how HIV/AIDS affects the lives of young people,” Faucett said. In addition, the project will provide an “excuse” for the kids to get to know each other, and to form, in a sense, a support group.

The project will begin this summer, with the kids meeting every two months at the CAM offices to edit their photos and begin putting together their albums.

“This is a time for them to talk to each other and share experiences and provide mutual support,” Faucett said. 

At the end of the yearlong project the kids will present their albums and stories for each other and for the community.

Faucett is excited about the project.

“My hope is that they will have a better understanding of how HIV/AIDS affects their lives, and that they can make some positive changes in their lives by critically looking at their own situation,” he said. “I hope that they will have increased self esteem and improved coping skills due to their creative outlet and support from other peers.”

HIV/AIDS is still considered shameful in Thailand, and, because of that, is often hidden and not talked about.

“I hope that this project might bring it out in the open and stimulate dialogue,” Faucett said. “I hope that the community can embrace these young lives and come away with a better sense of community.”

Erin Dunigan is a free-lance writer/photographer in Newport Beach, CA.

Information about and letters from PC(USA) mission workers around the world can be found online at the Mission Connections website.