Children of the Harbor

A documentary film about HIV+ children in China. Supported by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Back in July of 2012, I had the unique opportunity to go to central China to live and work at a hospice for critically ill AIDS patients. At the time, I was working as a tester, counselor, and research assistant for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides medical services to hundreds of thousands of HIV+ people in thirty-six different countries around the globe. My task was to document barriers to HIV testing and care within Shanxi province. The setting was the Green Harbor Hospice located in Linfen, Shanxi—a city best known for millet, coal mining, and vinegar.

While working at the Green Harbor Hospice I experienced numerous medical tragedies that I will never forget: a 40 y/o women with a CD4 count of one who had multiple cavitary TB lung lesions as well as a scaly gray rash sprawling across both legs and feet; a 25 y/o man with bulging eyes and deep central pallor who refused to stop smiling despite the swaths of flies hovering around his face; a 19 y/o cachectic girl too weak to open her eyes or speak her husband’s name. While these harrowing encounters instantly chiseled themselves deep into my brain’s memory, they are not the memories that I hold closest to my heart.

As it turns out, the Green Harbor Hospice also doubles as the Green Harbor Red-Ribbon School, a boarding school for HIV+ children ages 5-18. The children living at the school are innocent victims of widespread stigma and discrimination. They have been bullied by their peers, banished from their own villages, separated from their families, and denied their right to pursue an education in the Chinese public school system.

The children living at the Green Harbor Red-Ribbon School unabashedly welcomed me into their world—the fact that I was foreign, that I struggled to speak Chinese, that I would be returning to my hometown very soon—none of it bothered them. They provided me with a beautifully rich experience that I will never forget. We played basketball on the front deck, we picked grapes in the nearby orchards, we cooked dumplings, we cleaned, we ate, we chatted, and we chilled. They taught me Chinese, I taught them English; in short, we became friends.

Despite all their suffering, these children maintain a collective spirit of joy, generosity, and gratitude palpable to anyone. This experience compelled me to develop a plan to support them and their school. After some thought, I eventually decided I would share their stories with a broader audience—i.e. use story-telling to highlight their radiant personalities and thereby build support for the Green Harbor Red-Ribbon School.

So that is what I set out to do; and now, I am in the mists of producing a documentary film about these amazing children! To date, I’ve built a team, and together with my team, secured rights to the film, raised funds, and collected hundreds of hours of footage. The film, entitled Children of the Harbor, is expected to be complete by January 2018. For more information please visit HERE

By Bryan Anker MED ’18