HERO Awards 2023: The Honourees

By September 29, 2023 November 28th, 2023 Regional, What We Do

HIV Hero
Award Recipient

Wangda Dorji

Bhutan

I am Wangda Dorji, born in 1974, the second youngest among five brothers and a sister. I’m married with three sons and two daughters. Despite living with the challenge of HIV, my wife and I were fortunate to discover our status early; allowing timely initiation of life-saving medication and the birth of HIV-negative children, remarkably three were given birth after our diagnosis. 

Our family aspires to find happiness and serenity in life as we walk this earth. Currently, I work for Lhak-Sam, the only Bhutan network of people living with HIV and AIDS (BNP+), in the position of Executive Director, since 2010.

Tell us about your work

I lead efforts to end HIV and AIDS as a public health concern by 2030. Our mission is to amplify the voices of those living with HIV, advocating for rights, reducing stigma, and driving community support. We collaborate extensively, partnering with governmental and non-governmental entities to implement evidence-based programs. Through education and outreach, we dispel misconceptions, enabling individuals to access proper healthcare. 

Our advocacy has influenced policies that prioritize the well-being of key affected individuals. 

With improved access to services and reduced stigma, our impact includes heightened engagement in testing, treatment and retention. 

Our vision is a Bhutan free from the burdens of HIV and AIDS, fostering a compassionate society where everyone lives without fear and discrimination. I am dedicated to steering Lhak-Sam towards this future, united with our team and community where all the people have access to quality services and a meaningful livelihood.

What one achievement you’ve accomplished that you’re most proud of? Why?

I’m deeply proud of my decision to sacrifice my privacy by publicly revealing my HIV status. Despite
knowing the potential social and psychological impact on myself, my children, and family, the urgent
need to combat social fear, stigma, and discrimination, and self-prejudice within the HIV community compelled us to be open. 

Our aim was to dispel myths, shift perceptions, reduce prejudice, and promote human values and compassion. Crucially, education about the virus and ensuring quality services were vital to prevent its clandestine spread. Despite our apprehensions about public opinion and acceptance, we were astonished by the inspiring and appreciative response from people, regarding our actions as bold and kind.

What do you find most challenging about your work? Why?

One of my most significant work challenges I have encountered is ensuring a steady influx of projects and funding, encompassing operational expenses such as human resources, to maintain optimal organizational efficiency. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of domestic funding for community system strengthening, and a deficiency of the concept of corporate social responsibility.

Another substantial hurdle is combating social stigma and discrimination while facilitating access to essential services. The historical portrayal of AIDS as fatal and immoral, coupled with the influence of prominent cultural norms, ancient texts, and religious beliefs, intensifies stigma, further marginalizing vulnerable populations and driving them underground away from services.

What do you do to recharge your battery?

To recharge my energy when tired and stressed, I retreat to the wild, immersing myself in the quietness of nature. Amidst breathtaking mountains, serene pine forests, and the beauty of dawn and dusk, I listen to soothing bird songs and the flow of a calm stream. I feel the touch of wind and the earth beneath my bare feet. Nights by the fire feeling its warmth, enjoying food cooked over flames, offer true rejuvenation. This reconnection with nature’s tranquillity and primal elements revitalizes my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being to journey further.

What is your vulnerability and how do you overcome it?

My vulnerability lies in speaking truth with genuine emotion and frustration, driven by evidence, solely for the social benefit rather than self-interest. While this benefits the community, this process strains personal relationships, is seen as unprofessional, and invites opposition and risk. 

To cope, I concealed my truth and boldness, attempting to impress others, yet this led to guilt, shame and absolute self embarrassment. I’ve realized striving to please others through duplication isn’t fulfilling. Instead, I’ve decided never to compromise authenticity for approval. To overcome this vulnerability, I’ll persist in my honesty. Those who value the real me will remain, while others’ opinions won’t hold weight.

You have been nominated for the Community Hero category.
What was your reaction?

I am tremendously grateful to APN+ for acknowledging my efforts and nominating me in the Asia-Pacific HIV Hero category. Learning about this remarkable news from the Executive Director of APCOM filled me with immense joy. I am genuinely delighted and feel incredibly valued.
This nomination holds a profound significance for me, as I have wholeheartedly devoted every facet of my being to this cause, surpassing even my personal priorities and family commitments. The journey has presented numerous challenges, and I’m thrilled that it has finally yielded positive results.

What warm/hopeful message that you would like to share with the communities in the Asia Pacific?

Engage in all your endeavours with genuine heart and boundless enthusiasm. The significance of consistently performing even the smallest tasks with sincerity and excellence in our daily lives cannot be underestimated. Over time, this accumulation will determine your life’s course. 

Cultivate both passion and compassion, and avoid comparing yourself to others, for neither superiority nor inferiority is the goal. Embrace honesty, generosity, commitment, simplicity and transparency in every pursuit. Let your actions emanate from a selfless heart, devoid of the desire for recognition, fame, or personal gain. If you live authentically, you’ll appreciate and value yourself, recognizing your true essence, and one day you will be surely and truly rewarded.

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