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By Lucy Kapi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (July 31, 2000 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---Everyone has a dream and a vision. One Papua New Guinea woman yearns to bring hope to the broken hearted, the deserted, the unloved and those hopelessly affected by HIV/AIDS.

Hailing from Gabagaba in Central province, 40-year-old Tessie Soi is a rarity among the nation's 4.5 million Papua New Guineans, showing great compassion for people afflicted with HIV/AIDS.

A social worker, Ms. Soi, spends most of her time everyday at the Port Moresby General Hospital, where she counsels and helps those belonging to the group, People Living With AIDS (PLWA).

She has gone one step further by establishing a non-governmental organization, Friends Foundation, which aims to assist people living with this killer disease, giving them hope for the future.

Friends Foundation Incorporation was launched last month at the National Parliament by its patron, Lady Roslyn Morauta, the wife of the Prime Minister.

Ms. Soi came face to face with her first AIDS case in 1989, marking the start of her journey to provide care, help and hope to people living with HIV/AIDS, along with support for their families and friends.

Here is how she tells her story.

"A young 26-year-old Papua New Guinean woman had just given birth and was not responding to treatment doctors had prescribed for her. She had a loving husband who upon hearing of his wife's diagnosis decided to spare her the shame.

"He told her that she was traditionally sick. The doctor advised her that she would only live for two weeks and maybe a month at the most.

"Her husband on hearing this decided that he would take his wife home. He confronted me with the question of how he could keep his wife alive as long as possible so she could spend time with the handsome little boy she had just given birth to.

"I looked at him. We did not have any treatment but something in his eyes inspired me to say, ‘Together we can give your wife faith and hope that will make her live longer.’

"I said to him, ‘All you need to do is to give a lot of our own Papua New Guinean food and TLC (Tender Loving Care).’

"He did and she lived for eight months - seven months more than the doctor had predicted. She sadly passed away after contacting pneumonia. Her son is now 11 years old. Her husband is HIV negative."

As the years went on and the epidemic kept on spreading silently, Ms. Soi went out of her way to educate people and to improve counseling methods for HIV/AIDS victims.

Despite her obvious generosity and compassion, Ms. Soi began to feel that something was missing in all her messages.

"Awareness of HIV/AIDS problems was creating mixed reactions. It seemed to be bringing fear rather than support for those known to be affected by HIV or AIDS," says Ms. Soi.

"Then came a whisper, ‘What about us?’ I listened carefully and heard the voices of those silent ones who were affected by HIV/AIDS. They did not have a voice, let alone a whisper to tell Papua New Guineans their side of the story.

"The stories of being deserted, of being thrown out of homes, of being neglected, stigmatized and deprived of their right to have medication to live longer, as you and I would like to do, to see our children grow older.

"Something stirred in my heart. Why not? My clients, my patients and my friends could help me do my education, my teaching and my awareness."

So on September 24, last year, Ms. Soi and a group of 12 very special friends (PLWA) passed the initial Constitution and Rules of Friends Foundation Incorporated.

Among them was the late Joseph Berem, one of the courageous Papua New Guineans who publicly declared his HIV status.

"Friends Foundation is not an organization that will make PLWAs become independent. No. It is a non-governmental organization that will give persons affected with HIV and AIDS hope," said Ms. Soi.

"Our main function is to assist the person affected."

Ms. Soi's interest in caring for AIDS victims began in 1984 when she joined the social work department at the Port Moresby General Hospital after graduating with a Degree in Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from the University of Papua New Guinea in 1982.

She worked with hospital patients to counsel them on their problems.

Since 1997, most of her time has been taken up by PLWA and her efforts to give hope to those diagnosed as HIV positive.

Sometimes she has had to use her own scarce resources to provide PLWA members with bus fares so that they could return to the hospital for counseling sessions.

"Two months ago before the launch of Friends Foundation, I had to sell ice blocks and other things to raise money for those affected by HIV/AIDS. I'm very thankful to my family for supporting me in my work, which has become a family thing," said Ms. Soi.

She said the launch of Friends Foundation has been a great help since many different organizations are donating funds towards the foundation to help her cause of assisting people living with HIV/AIDS. Ms. Soi says she has no regrets whatsoever in helping PLWAs.

"I really care for them as human beings who have a right to live and have good medication," she said. "The thought of my being able to do something to help them after seeing many young people and parents die of HIV/AIDS, the hurt felt by the children of these victims has been the driving force behind my work."

She said that since 1989 she has counseled about 300 AIDS victims, about 75 percent of whom have already passed away.

Ms. Soi, who continues to inspire people around her, pledges to keep helping the many Papua New Guinean men, women, children and babies who are, and will be, affected by this epidemic.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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