Using a café to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS

“Window of Love,” Hanoi’s first sexuality education café, provides youths with consultation and counseling services on issues pertaining to sex and HIV/AIDS.

In Vietnam, the development of HIV/AIDS has been very dramatic. By the end of 2000, there were over 160,000 cases of infections. Adolescents and young people account for more than 50% of the HIV cases in the country. Teenagers are likely to be ignorant on the issues of HIV/AIDS and reproductive health because sex education is nonexistent both in schools and households because of cultural taboos. However, premarital sex is becoming more widespread, increasing the risk of infection. Reaching out to the youth population, therefore, has become a top priority to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Window of Love opened its doors in Hanoi in 1999, following the success that a café in Ho Chi Minh City had distributing condoms and providing advice. It is funded by the Vietnam National AIDS Committee and a German organization. The café provides a venue for reaching out to teenagers and providing them with education, an important preventative weapon against HIV/AIDS. Young people in Hanoi commonly spend time in cafés talking with their friends, so Window of Love offers a comfortable, inconspicuous atmosphere in which teenagers can freely discuss issues that their parents and teachers are too embarrassed to address.

At Window of Love, HIV/AIDS counselors and doctors specializing in reproductive health are at hand to answer questions about sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and other health related issues. Some physicians are female in order to ensure that all visitors can feel comfortable talking to someone about their health. The services and education provided are anonymous and most young people are able to discuss their problems on a one-to-one basis. On average, Window of Love receives 50 customers between the ages of 16 and 24 every day. Manager Duong Thuy Hang notes that “the number of young people coming here is increasing daily.” Most of the teenagers who visit the café learn about it through their friends.

Window of Love has already helped many teenagers, most of whom are ignorant of HIV/AIDS and its effects when they first come to the café. For example, one female university student arrived fearing that she was pregnant because she had had unprotected sex with her boyfriend. The doctor and counselor at Window of Love gave her information about what to do. They also told her about the transmission and impact of HIV/AIDS, which she did not know about, and how she could protect herself. By offering information to young people like this university student, Window of Love is working to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS in Hanoi.


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What we can learn from this tactic: 

This tactic of using commonly accepted public spaces to engender discussion about taboo topics can be used in any place where there are cultural constraints surrounding a certain issue. The tactic was successful in Hanoi because youth already spent time in cafés, so Window of Love provided a comfortable space in which to discuss difficult issues.

The target of this tactic does not have to be youth. Women, sex workers, or homeless people could also benefit from this type of tactical intervention. In addition, the subject of the information does not have to be sex and HIV/AIDS. Other social and community issues such as drugs, poverty, sex trafficking, child labor, and domestic or sexual abuse could be topics on which to provide information. However, there are a number of concerns to keep in mind. First, the location has to be a common venue where the targeted group usually spends their time. Second, confidentiality is crucial. The targeted population must feel comfortable and safe seeking information. Third, support from the government, community, or some segment of the community will be necessary, particularly in regards to funding. Depending on the strength of the opinions of the government and the community at large towards the information being shared, opposition may be expected. Finally, quality education is key. Window of Love has become more popular mostly through word of mouth. The targeted population must feel that the information they are learning is valuable enough to share with others in order for the program to grow.