GMT Grantee Profile:
Hebei Light of Love Care Group (Baoding, China)
Popularizing treatment education, improving the quality of life, and propagating HIV-prevention for MSM in China
- Carrying out treatment, advocacy, peer education, and training
- Providing home visits and routine care services
- Reducing the psychological pressure of MSM living with HIV
- Social support through volunteer “mothers”
Situated in Hebei Province, just outside Beijing in the northeast corner of mainland China, the Hebei Light of Love Care Group is a small grassroots organization making a big impact on the local MSM (men having sex with men) population. The group refers men living with HIV/AIDS from Hebei and surrounding provinces to the care of a local clinic and—with the help of an award from amfAR’s MSM Initiative—aims to improve the health and well-being of MSM living with HIV through treatment literacy and advocacy workshops, peer education activities, home visits, and counseling. Another key part of their project is to encourage HIV-positive MSM to actively engage in local advocacy activities.
Founded in 2007, Light of Love began as a group of friends supporting each other, but has since grown to help more than 5,000 people, many of whom travel from outside Hebei province. “Many of the patients have been refused by local hospitals when it became known they were HIV positive,” says volunteer Wang Peng, who has been with the group since its founding and considers himself as much a recipient as a dispenser of advice and support.
The group also has volunteer “mothers” who provide social support for clients These “mothers” are women whose sons are gay and living with HIV, or who may have died of AIDS. They serve as surrogate mothers for clients whose families may have rejected them because of their sexual orientation or HIV+ status. “They take care of us,” Wang Peng says. “They listen to what we say. They give us advice, make good food for us. They never discriminate. With them, we feel warm and safe. Someone will give a call to the mothers when they are unhappy or happy. Through them, we feel more powerful when facing the virus.”
Through workshops and peer education, Light of Love helps to spread basic knowledge of HIV/AIDS to the MSM community and provides psychological support for MSM living with HIV. By giving MSM a place to go outside the formal healthcare system, while still coordinating with mainstream hospitals and doctors, the group is educating both patients and health professionals and bridging the gap between government and minority groups’ HIV needs.
Money is always an issue for the Light of Love staff, as it is for most grassroots organizations. Lack of funds limits the talent they can hire and the impact they can make. “Every year, we must spend a lot of energy looking for funding,” says Wang Peng. “Like many Chinese grassroots organizations, we have gotten through this year, but do not know what will happen next year.” But battling adversity has made the group stronger. “Our organization grows and develops in the process of dealing with various difficulties and problems, and we have a great volunteer team.” Funding from amfAR contributes toward staff salaries, website expenses, phones, training activities, visits to patients’ homes, and more.
In their own words
Wang Peng has been a volunteer with Hebei Light of Love since its founding.
“I have been with the group since it was established and I have witnessed Hebei Light of Love's growth and development. I am the assistant to our team leader and I am responsible for project management, patients’ service, and the group’s operation, but I do anything I can.
At the beginning, we thought that we had an organization that could allow us to simply talk and communicate with each other. But as more and more friends joined, we began to supply services and assistance. Over the past five years, we grew from the initial 5 persons to the current 500. We are very happy that we can help so many people who have the same virus as us. Personally, I think the group is successful, but not perfect. We need to work harder and harder. We hope our group develops better, and we can help more people who are HIV positive.
Hebei Light of Love is a family and a home where I can say what I want to say. It makes me free and relaxed and I want it to be strong. And through the group I can help more people like me and participate in the development of China's civil society.”