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AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS Building a brighter future for children with AIDS

The head of the secretariat, Mio Kojima, holding the World's AIDS Day booklet.

The head of the secretariat, Mio Kojima,
holding the World's AIDS Day booklet.

This month's Close UP features AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS, which was established in December of 2005 as Japan's first NGO to specialize in supporting orphans with AIDS. Since then, they have worked with local groups in Uganda and Kenya to organize AIDS awareness, educational support, and mother-to-child transmission prevention programs. As set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO), every December 1st is World AIDS Day. This time, I had the pleasure of speaking with the PLAS's secretary-general Mio Kojima about their campaigns for World AIDS Day.

Could you please tell us about the foundation of PLAS?


A. PLAS was founded by 7 students in December of 2005. During a visit to Uganda, one of the founding members was shocked at the treatment of orphans with AIDS. They were not allowed to attend school and were even discriminated against in their own homes. At the time, he was a member of an NPO. Upon returning to Japan, he asked members of the NPO's mailing list to speak openly about AIDS and these orphans. The 7 members who gathered to discuss the issue eventually came to form PLAS.


What kind of activities did you start with?

A. We started with AIDS awareness and educational support programs in the slum areas of Uganda, where many of the orphans live. Our hope is to put a smile on the faces of children affected by HIV and AIDS. Instead of simply donating goods and money, it is important to build a foundation in their communities so that they have the means to support themselves even after PLAS has gone.

AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

©AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

Please tell us the current situation of these orphans.


AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

©AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

A. Since the local people are not properly educated about HIV and AIDS, children who lose their parents because of this sickness become labeled as "the cursed children." In some regions, discrimination remains deeply-rooted. Crops from the areas where the orphans are placed don't sell, and because the orphans aren't expected to live long, they are not allowed to attend school.

Please tell us what you've achieved thus far.


A. We have made it possible for over 300 orphans to attend elementary school in Kenya and Uganda.Currently there are projects to prevent mother-to-child transmission of AIDS, and through the volunteer group "Leaders in Awareness," we have provided educational activities to nearly 10,000 local residents.


Who are the Leaders in Awareness?

A. They range from people in their 20's to seniors in various fields. They range from teachers, drivers, people with backgrounds in health and agriculture. What they lack in knowledge of HIV and AIDS they share in their strong desire to better their communities. If PLAS directly runs the awareness groups, the local people would lose their motivation to spread their knowledge of HIV/AIDS.So, we choose to instead provide support in the background.

AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

©AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

What do you keep in mind regarding awareness to prevent mother-to-child transmission?


AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

©AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

A. It's important that we surround the mother with loved ones including her spouse, and informing the community until we can begin to make progress. For example, even if a woman wishes to be tested for HIV/AIDS before having children, she's often the subject of ridicule and suspicion from those around her. Many people will encourage her to "stop this shameful act" and to give birth at home. We find it necessary to put an end to this unhealthy mindset. In order to achieve this, the Leaders in Awareness approach males in the local community where they often gather.

Do you organize awareness programs in Japan?

A. We carry out various campaigns and events to inform people that there are ways we can help AIDS orphans from right here in Japan. In 2009, there were 16.6 million AIDS orphans, which is more than the total population of Tokyo. Mothers who have HIV have a 30% risk of passing on the virus to their babies. Among these children born with HIV, only half will see their 2nd birthdays. The people are shocked to hear such devastating facts.

AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

©AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

World AIDS Day is currently taking place right?


AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

©AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

A. To coincide with World AIDS Day, we are also running a campaign from November 1st to December 25th. Through charity parties, auctions, booklets, donated goods, etc., people can easily participate. This time, over 10,000 free booklets entitled What do you know about AIDS Orphans? were distributed by The Body Shop as well as other shops by Idea International. These booklets are also available for download online at World AIDS Day campaign's website, http://www.plas-aids.org/wad2012.

Is there anything else we can do to provide support?

A. Something you can easily do to help is to donate books to our service called PLAS Charibon. Once you have finished reading a book, you can send it in to Charibon, who will donate a substantial amount of the proceeds to our cause. For example, if one used book is worth ¥50, then one book can provide education about preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV for 4 mothers. The more people who participate, the more people we can educate. Charibon can also offer cash on delivery for shipments of 5 books or more.
Plas Charibon : http://www.plas-aids.org/support/charibon

AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

©AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

Do you have any recommendations for those who wish to take it a step further?


A. Between November 1st and December 25th, our AIDS Orphans to School program runs alongside World AIDS Day's campaign; we collaborate with support groups in Uganda and with extra proceeds from poultry farms we can help put these orphans through school. Our goal is to raise ¥1,342,000, and you can track our progress on our website. However, we are still far from this amount. Also, there are methods of donating money on a monthly basis, so we hope you can find a method that suits you.
AIDS Orphans to School : http://www.plas-aids.org/support/donation


Will attending PLAS events also support your cause?


AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

©AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

A. Of course. Proceeds from the entry fee also help fund our activities. Just learning more about the AIDS/HIV situation in Africa is enough. PLAS holds talk events and seminars 1 or 2 times a month, and in December we have 2 events planned. On Wednesday, December 12th, we'll have a seminar about on the utilization of social media and databases. On Friday, December 14th, I'll introduce industries here in Japan that are offering support in Africa, and speak about international methods of support as well. If you are interested, please check out our website.

Are you accepting volunteers?

A. You can register to volunteer through our recruitment site. Whenever clerical work arises, or if we need a hand during our events, you'll receive a notice from us. If you are skilled in copywriting or design,we would greatly appreciate any pro bono work you can offer. Also, we currently have 6 interns at our executive office in Japan, but it is not sufficient. So, we ask students to please sign up for intern work.

AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

©AIDS Orphan Support NGO PLAS

Do you have a final message for our readers?


A. Even though these issues seem distant to us here in Japan, if we consider the fact that any child needs a sense of self worth and support from those around them, then shouldn't it transcend cultural barriers and the distance between countries? Japan and Africa are separated by long distances, but we share a great deal together. If you are wondering how you can help be a part of this cause, we'd deeply appreciate working with you in any way possible.