It Takes A Village

HIV-positive villagers find refuge in a Thai temple.

Kristin Barendsen

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It's the third Thursday of the month in Hua Rin, northern Thailand, a day when villagers bring offerings of candles, incense, and lotus blooms to the local temple. But in the temple’s community hall, something unusual is unfolding. In one corner, a nurse takes villagers’ blood pressure and gives advice on medication. Nearby, a group sits in half-lotus around a monk who gives dharma instruction and counseling. A chatty group sprawls in front of the altar, carving sandalwood into flowers to adorn coffins of the dead.

It’s the meeting of an HIV support group that has been gathering monthly at the temple, Wat Hua Rin, for nine years. Its over forty-five members come for free health checks and treatment advice, and especially for spiritual counseling from the orange-robed man who helped make this all possible: Abbot Luang Pi Daeng.

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