Vietnamese schoolgirl pens letter on AIDS prevention to capture UN prize

15 September 2010
Ho Thi Hieu Hien, first prize winner of the 39th UPU International Letter-writing Competition for Young People

A Vietnamese schoolgirl’s heartfelt letter on AIDS prevention to a well-known Chinese film director has been awarded first prize in the annual letter-writing competition for young people sponsored by the United Nations postal union.

Writing to renowned director Zhang Yimou, 11-year-old Ho Thi Hieu Hien expressed her intention to make films of the quality of his award-winning Raise the Red Lantern and Red Sorghum – to counter widespread misunderstanding and explain why protection against HIV infection is so important.

“In my films I shall convey love and pain, ingratitude and ignorance, while imparting knowledge about AIDS prevention in a gentle yet forceful way, in order to awaken the human conscience,” she writes.

Nearly 2 million children from some 60 countries, including some 1.3 million from Viet Nam alone, took part in the 2010 competition, the 39th annual edition of the event run by the Universal Postal Union (UPU). This is the fifth time that Viet Nam has finished in the top three, but the first time it has won the gold medal.

Second prize went to 13-year-old Svetlana Zinevitch, from Belarus, for “a very personal and moving letter written by an unborn child to his mother who suffers from AIDS.”

The third-prize winner, 15-year-old Crystal Hippolyte from Barbados, wrote a “clear and concise letter” in which “the author confronts the issues head on in terms of how young people must come to grips with AIDS as they reach sexual maturity,” according to the jury.

Special commendations were given to Francisca Amoussa of Benin, Irene Petral of Zambia, Patricia Sousa Florindo of Portugal, Sebastián Solis of Ecuador, and Irina Bidniak of Ukraine.

Congratulating the winners, UPU Director General Edouard Dayan noted that “even though personal correspondence now accounts for a tiny fraction of worldwide mail volumes, it is as important as ever to draw young people's attention to the skills of letter writing. We would like them to acquire a taste for writing and communicating in general.”

Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Executive Director Michel Sidibé said his agency “is delighted that this letter-writing competition has given millions of children around the world a chance to find out about HIV and voice their opinions. It is our duty to listen to these hard-hitting and meaningful messages and act.”

The theme was: “Write a letter to someone to explain why it is important to talk about AIDS and to protect oneself against it.” It was chosen to tie in with an AIDS prevention campaign launched in 2009 by the UPU, UNAIDS, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and trade unions.

The theme for the competition in 2011, which has been proclaimed by the UN General Assembly as the International Year of Forests, is: “Write a letter to someone to explain why it is important to protect forests.”


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