This profile was prepared when Boonreung Phupanna was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
Boonreung Phupanna is responding to Thailand's lack of a comprehensive support structure for people with AIDS by allying respected religious leaders with AIDS patients, their families, and widows to fight against prejudice and discrimination. Boonreung encourages Buddhist monks to educate and counsel people in their communities about the HIV virus and its prevention. Her program has established cooperation between villages and temples in many districts in the north and northeast of Thailand, where the illicit sex trade and HIV infection have spread rapidly.Buddhist monks are among the most trusted and respected members of Thai communities. Traditionally they help individuals deal with issues of death and dying. Therefore, their involvement brings credibility and seriousness to the AIDS discussion a topic rife with rumor and faulty misinformation. Boonreung's project successfully brings monastic and lay people together to support and educate people with HIV and AIDS, those who have lost family members to AIDS, and those who are at risk of contracting the disease. Her group is the first in Thailand whose members disclose publicly that they have the AIDS virus. This has helped to demystify the illness and has led to better understanding and social support for the families of AIDS patients.