Speech by Amb. Maeve Collins, Workshop to Implement the NPA for Children Affected by HIV, 22/9/09

Good morning. On behalf of the international community, thank you for granting me the opportunity to address you on this important occasion. As has been said before me, the passage of this NPA is a long-awaited and much-welcomed event. I wish to congratulate the Ministry of Education and Training, the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Health for the leadership they have shown in pushing ahead, despite the challenges and setbacks met along the way, with the development and passage of this NPA.

Government exists to defend and promote the interests and well-being of the people, in particular those people unable to speak out loudly in their own defense. The ranks of the voiceless, in Viet Nam just as in every other country, are filled with children. This is why today’s event bears such significance. It is a testimony to the care that the Vietnamese Government extends to the vulnerable, and a proclamation of this nation’s commitment to and investment in its future. Good morning. On behalf of the international community, thank you for granting me the opportunity to address you on this important occasion. As has been said before me, the passage of this NPA is a long-awaited and much-welcomed event. I wish to congratulate the Ministry of Education and Training, the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Health for the leadership they have shown in pushing ahead, despite the challenges and setbacks met along the way, with the development and passage of this NPA.

Government exists to defend and promote the interests and well-being of the people, in particular those people unable to speak out loudly in their own defense. The ranks of the voiceless, in Viet Nam just as in every other country, are filled with children. This is why today’s event bears such significance. It is a testimony to the care that the Vietnamese Government extends to the vulnerable, and a proclamation of this nation’s commitment to and investment in its future.

In my homeland, Ireland, we have an ancient story about a king, King Lir, whose children were stolen. An evil witch turned the children into swans and sent them far away, to a stormy island where they lived alone for 300 years. When they were finally rescued, the children’s only request was to be with their parents again. They died to return to their family. 

As we age, we forget how important children’s early years are to their lifelong development. A child ostracized by classmates, turned away from medical care or abandoned by caretakers may be just as lovely and sweet on the outside as the children that many of you have waiting for you at home. But inside, unseen and un-speakable, that child is patterned with scars. Children need protection. They need stable families and positive social reinforcement. 

A child’s parents are her or his whole world. The best estimates we have state that more than 140,000 children in Viet Nam have lost at least one parent to HIV. And so many more are affected by the stigma and discrimination that is linked to a family member’s positive status. These children live among us. We see them amid the hundreds of faces we pass every day, unawares. But though they may be in the midst of the crowd, in their own minds they are completely alone. They are on a stormy island, waiting to be rescued. Waiting to go home.

I am very pleased to see that the NPA has benefited from the diligent inputs of so many partners (MOLISA, MOET, MOH and the Partnership Group on Children and AIDS). The plan is clear, achievable and costed, with a strong framework for monitoring, evaluation and reporting. The responsibilities of all agencies are plainly defined. 

The challenge now, of course, will be to make sure it is fully implemented at all levels and among all sectors. I encourage provincial level leaders to take the lead. I also encourage partners at the provincial, district and communal level to get actively involved in identifying the particular needs of each locality. Viet Nam is a diverse country and the NPA will be most successful, and meaningful, if is adapted to the local context.

In closing, there is a beautiful Vietnamese proverb that came to my mind when I was asked to speak to you this morning. I learned it quite recently. ‘Even building nine stories of a Buddhist stupa is less meritorious than saving a single person in danger.’

It reminds me that sometimes, to effect even small change requires enormous effort; but not all effort is equal. We need to prioritise, identify what is really important and be practical – both in our actions and our expectations. We need to put people at the centre of development. We need to reach out first to those most in danger of falling. I am thrilled that the NPA for Children and HIV does all of these things so well.

Once again, thank you for your hard work and dedication. I look forward to hearing about the plan’s progress and assure you, on the behalf of the international community, that we stand ready to support its implementation in whatever way possible.

Thank you for your kind attention.

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