A few days ago, reporters paid a visit to the Linfen Red Ribbon School, to see for themselves the only school in China set up specifically for children with HIV.
The school, located in Linfen city, Shanxi province, is the only one of its kind in China, and has been providing education and medical treatment to children suffering from HIV or AIDS since December 2011. Currently, there are 32 students from all over the country living and studying at the school free of charge.
The picture below shows Hongmei and her teacher Ms. Liu. “The first time I met Hongmei and her older brother, they were both filthy, you couldn’t even tell what they looked like. But they looked really cute after a nice shower,” she told reporters.
Most of the kids at the school are orphans, who were abandoned by their parents after they were diagnosed with HIV.
The kids are cared for with great warmth at the school. Guo Xiaoping, the principal, always plays with his students during his leisure time. “A lot of kids wanted to call him ‘dad’ instead of ‘principal,’ but Guo didn’t agree with it,” Ms. Liu said. “He thought that he could never replace their real parents, no matter how well he treats them. As long they are well taken care of, what they call him doesn’t really matter.”
17-year-old Xiaofan is learning to play guitar from his teacher Li Jun. Xiaofan is currently living with his brother and grandma after his mother passed away from AIDS, followed by his father shortly after in a car accident — this all happened when Xiaofan was just three years old.
Along with learning instruments, the kids also get dance lessons.
13-year-old Xiaoshan plays with his 8-year-old brother Xiaojiang. Their mother, a HIV carrier, is Burmese; unfortunately, that means they are without the all-important Chinese resident certificate, hukou.
Volunteers from Hong Kong have lunch with the kids.
On rainy days, children get to stay inside, in the teacher’s room, and watch some TV during recess.
Principal Guo says that most of the kids are orphans, and that many don’t even know their real names or what it’s like to have a mother. In the picture below, they learn how to sign “mom.”
Since the school was established, there has only been one child who passed away. Still, Principal Guo gets very emotional every time that child is brought up. He says he will die without regrets, as long as he looks after his students well.
The school provides students with free medication.
10-year-old girl Weiwei comes from Shandong province. Her mom died of HIV when she was only 6 years old. She just has one picture of her mother saved to her mobile phone. When people ask if she misses her mom, Weiwei says nothing, but kisses the screen.
There are estimated 575,000 people in China living with HIV or AIDS and a growing percentage of that number is young people. Often kids who have been diagnosed with HIV can be shunned by their communities. While China has begun to offer free antiviral therapy for all of its citizens living with HIV or AIDS, hopefully more schools like Linfen Red Ribbon will be opened in the future to help kids in need.
Back in 2014, Peng Liyuan, China’s First Lady, wrote a letter to the students at Linfen Red Ribbon to encourage them. She wrote:
“Although disease has brought you misfortunes, you all are blessed in the meantime. It’s because there are many people in society concerned and helping you all. We should always be thankful, face our life optimistically, face the reality, embrace the future, pursue your dreams bravely and work hard to achieve them.”
By Sophie Wang
[Images via NetEase]