Report on Visit, by Dr. Martin Huddart
Over the years, I developed a close working relationship with Steve Hallam, one of the founders, Alan Wheeler, an ex-pat living in Chiang Mai and Gee Jaiglar, the health care worker, pivotal to the day-to-day work of the organization. After Steve’s death in 2010, I feared that Rejoice Thailand would cease to exist, but how wrong I was.
With the support of donors across the World, especially SDL Foundation, championed by Winston in Bangkok, and friends in Singapore, corralled by Wight, the Charity has gone from strength to strength.I became a Trustee of Rejoice Foundation UK ten years ago, at the request of a friend, who, at that time was also a Trustee. I had been to Thailand the previous two years and had fallen in love with the country and its people. My thinking was that, in addition to the altruism, it was also an excuse to keep visiting the region, of which I had grown so fond. With my background of front line family medicine in the East End of London over nearly thirty years, in addition to the philanthropy and governance of Rejoice Thailand, I could also advise on the clinical work, to ensure that their work was evidence based.
I visited Rejoice in Chiang Mai after an absence of two years, as Alan and I went to visit donors in Singapore last year. I was stunned by the remarkable progress the Charity had made over that period. By linking in with volunteer HIV health workers from Chiang Dao Hospital, Mae Ai and San Kamphaeng clinics, Rejoice has effectively increased their outreach workforce from one to seven health care workers, with minimal staff costs. This has expanded the catchment area significantly and Rejoice is now visiting villages as close to the Burmese border as it is possible to travel by road and reaching communities, whom have no access to health care locally.
During my visit, I joined Gee, his assistant Arm and Kanda, an HIV worker from Chiang Dao Hospital on an eleven hour round trip to Ban Kae Noi, a Lahu village in the foothills of the Burmese border. There we saw a 50 year old mother with AIDS, being cared for by her 12 year old daughter, the wife of a patient, with HIV and drug resistant TB, who was suffering from diarrhoea and another mother with AIDS, who was reminded that she had a hospital appointment at 8am that Friday at the local hospital. This was a three hour journey away by motor bike, on dirt roads, in searing heat. For this reason, many patients fail to attend outpatient appointments, and without the work of Rejoice, would not receive any health care at all. In addition to checking on their clinical condition, Arm distributed much needed warm clothing and nutritious food.
Rejoice was very fortunate to receive a significant anonymous donation two years ago, which enabled it to replace the aging transport with a new truck, so vital for the outreach work. Gee, Arm, Wi and the HIV workers have now started to stay overnight in Fang on their long trips to the border areas, thereby reducing the travelling time and fuel costs.
In addition to the outreach work, Rejoice has been moving “upstream” and has initiated an educational programme for schools and local communities, to teach on the risks of HIV, modes of transmission, safer sex techniques and reducing the stigma of the disease. I observed such a teaching session with 13 to 14 year olds at a school in San Kamphaeng and the ability of Gee and the HIV workers to engage, inform and stimulate a group of 39 students over a three hour workshop was most impressive.
I retire from my GP role this year and hope to spend more time in Chiang Mai province in the future. With the relaxing of border controls and the regime in Burma, Rejoice may be able to expand yet deeper into the hills and extend its influence. There may also be the possibility of introducing near-patient HIV screening and blood monitoring, in liaison with Chiang Dao Hospital, to reduce the need for sick patients to travel long distances in difficult conditions.In the January 2014 newsletter, there was an article from Russ, a volunteer from SDL Foundation on the work of Rejoice. This was a point in time observation. Alan, whom visits the Charity weekly, has not perceived such a dramatic change, but, having not visited for two years, I was amazed and most impressed by the development of Rejoice over that time. This has been made possible by the generous donations we have received and the hard work and compassion of Gee, Arm, Wi and the HIV volunteers, ably supported by Alan, who produces monthly accounts, newsletters and annual reports and maintains the website.
Thank you to all at Rejoice for welcoming me into your lives and making the past ten years so enjoyable and satisfying. Onwards and upwards for the next decade.
Dr Martin Huddart.
Rejoice Foundation UK.