I fell very ill and had to be admitted to the hospital. I told no one but my mother. My doctor told me I wouldn’t live long. But my mother refused to believe it. She said, “I have eight children and I won’t let any of them die before I do.” I trusted her more than the doctor. What she said made me realize that I wanted to live.

At that time, I asked my mother whether I could pay my respects to her by washing her feet. I thought it would be my last chance to do so. My mom patted me on the head and said, “Stay. I want you to stay.” From that moment, I knew I would live. This became an annual ritual. On my birthday, I wash her feet to mark the fact that both of us are still here.

My mother’s words made me want to fight. The doctor gave me medicine but my mother gave me strength. After taking medicine for about a year, my CD4 infection-fighting cells increased and my health improved. This proved that the medicine was effective. But at the same time, many other patients couldn’t access medicine because of its price. So I joined a treatment access group in Bangkok and was chosen to be a regional leader. Our agenda was to demand that the government finance an HIV medication program by initiating a national tax. We succeeded.

Now, societal stigma is our biggest problem. In Thai culture, HIV is associated with bad karma. People consider it to be the illness of sexual deviants and drug users, who have accrued bad karma in the past. This is why I help distribute meds to people who live far away or can’t afford to see a doctor. When people are short on medication, they call me and I help them. I encourage them to take their medications properly, and to disclose their HIV status to their loved ones. It’s better that way. One client I work with was sick for sixteen years, but he only just got on medication three months ago because he didn’t know about his right to get free medication.

When I’m home I always exercise to be strong. I meditate to calm the mind, allowing it to be empty. We can’t control life. We have to set it free. If I don’t love myself, who is going to love me? If I get sick, who will take care of others?