Humans of Courage – Ngo Linh

I got HIV from my first husband. And that has changed my life ever since.

We fell in love when I was a young girl from the Mekong Delta, going to Saigon in the hope of a better life. We had a daughter when I was 22. When his business failed, his friends introduced him to work as a bus attendant for their North-South bus route. Then after a while, I noticed that his neck was getting swollen glands. A doctor who travelled on his bus told him to go to the hospital for some checkup the next day and bringing his spouse if he had one. That was the year 2007 when I found out I had HIV from my husband.

Our first response was to go buying some pesticides, preparing to commit suicide together. It was nearly 20 years ago and everyone thought of HIV as an instant death sentence. We really wanted to end it quick. But at the moment both of us were about to drink the poison, our little daughter woke up and cried. Seeing her face, suddenly all the deadly thoughts vanished, we decided to give life a chance.

I went online to seek all HIV-related information available then, and from there I got to know several HIV support groups in town. They introduced me to social works, and let me join in a network of their collaborators where I met many other people who had been living with HIV for years. But unlike me then, they led a good life, traveling to many countries to contribute to the global community. I thought: “If they could do it, why couldn’t I?” And they also inspired me to learn how to love myself. For example, for years I had put up with the beatings from my husband. But one day I came home and said to his face, “If you hit me again, I will leave you.” One has to protect oneself before others do.

I loved doing social works. Anytime they called, I would show up to help, such as responding to people having a drug overdose. When I invited my husband to join me, he said, “you only made friends with rubbish ones”, I was really angry. Then the distance between us grew, we had fewer things in common. We broke up after 8 years of our marriage.

After that, I went through two other failed marriages. Both of the exes were my former clients of my volunteering social works. They were clean when we dated, yet soon relapsed after our weddings. One even cheated on me, the other got arrested while he was buying drugs, and even in prison, he managed to keep the habit. I found out, begged him to stop for countless times. He refused, I sent him the divorce paper to sign in prison. Now they all have a new family of their own and have a proper job to afford a decent life. I am happy for them and still a counselor for my exes, as we remain friends.

The current one, my fourth bet of happiness, is not from my world! I met him when I was taking care of my dying mother in a hospital where he worked as a security guard. He asked me about bags of old clothes I summoned for donations, I asked him to join my charity projects, and sometimes to lend a helping hand at Nha Minh Clinic. We spent a lot of time together and eventually fell in love. But this guy is 10 years younger than me, and HIV negative. When he wanted to get things serious between us, I told him I have HIV. To which he replied by a shrug and said “That doesn’t matter,” because by then he had had a better understanding of the disease. We have been together for almost 4 years now and it’s going strong.

When we started dating though, my husband went worried nuts when seeing me approaching some rough-looking people sitting at parks – they had tattooed and all; and anytime I went on a business trip for my social works, and he lost kilograms of weight because of being too anxious for me at home. But after I let him know more of what I am doing, he has grown more open, even eager to help me with those community works.

Aside from the private clinic, I now also volunteer as a “communicator” for the Department of Social Vices Prevention, counseling many sex workers in my city on women’s rights and legal support. Sometimes I went in brothels, not to give speeches in there since they would hate it, but just to leave my name cards, phone number and give out condoms. I want them to know they can call me whenever they need me. Sometimes I could get 100 free cervical cancer screening tests, I would invite them to go for the checkups. That is how I build trust among them.

My eldest daughter is now studying social works at the most prestigious university in the city. She is exactly a mini-me: she has her community spirit in her blood and boiling enthusiasm and dynamics. I could not be any prouder!

At the clinic, I still consult people newly enrolled in HIV treatment and sometimes their family. Like me, they are all freaked out at first, seeing that they might spend the rest of their life in stigma and fear, and that very life might end so soon. I would always use me as an example to them, telling that they can be totally fine if they follow ARV treatment properly. Even more, they can strive for a happy and healthy life, having a stable job, marrying their loved one without the fear of spreading the disease. I told them, as long as you know how to love yourself, not discriminate yourself, and live well, you can always keep your head up no matter what anyone think.”


Green One UN House, 304 Kim Ma, Ba Dinh, Ha Noi, Viet Nam