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From sex worker to TV inspiration

Update: March, 12/2013 - 10:24

by Van Dat

Overcoming the odds: Tam at a recent seminar on HIV/AIDS and sex workers held in HCM City. Beside attending charitable and social events related to HIV and prostitution, she often gives lectures at universities. — VNS Photo Van Dat

HCM CITY (VNS)— The life story of a former sex worker and drug addict who became a tireless social worker in HCM City is set to be made into a 30-episode television film.

But Truong Thi Hong Tam, 58, known as "Tam Sida" (Tam with AIDS) since she is infected with the disease, first knew about the biopic on her life not from the producer or director.

She heard it from some street youths who called her and asked for money after reading in the newspapers that she would be paid VND75 million (US$3,500) for the rights to her autobiography Vuot Len Cai Chet (Overcoming Death).

She told Viet Nam News that, more than the money, the fact that more people in society, especially youths, would know about her life from the film and realise what mistakes to avoid made her happy.

She said she wrote the book last year for the same purpose.

She still cannot believe that she has managed to overcome all her travails and rise from the "bottom" of society to become a "good" person.

"I am now confident about telling everybody about my life, my faults in the hope of helping some change their minds.

"But I did not even dream of seeing my life depicted in a film.

"Earning money by doing an honest job makes me overjoyed. I count it many times even though it is a small amount. I also pinch myself sometimes to check if I am dreaming."

Director Dinh Duc Liem bought the copyright of the book for the film because he was moved to read about the life of a former prostitute who was abandoned by her parents when she was just seven and moved to HCM City to earn her own livelihood at nine.

Liem, who has made several compassionate films about the poor like Gia Tu Di Vang (Goodbye to the Past), Dong Tien Xuong Mau (Bloody Money), said there was many interesting details in the book.

Without divulging details, he said he saw "material" for the film in Tam's childhood, family, and dark years of living on the streets and becoming a drug addict.

Her father and mother both had a succession of spouses, and abandoned her and her youngest brother when he was still an infant. She had to steal rice from neighbours to feed themselves.

She was beaten and exploited by stepmothers and sexually abused by strangers in HCM City.

At 14 she became a drug addict and sex worker.

She escaped several times from re-education camps in the 1980's.

In 1992, when HIV became a new scourge in the city, her life changed. She became a peer educator, helping her friends and other drug users and sex workers avoid the disease.

The idea of writing about her life came from a German social worker Petra, who used to work with the HCM City AIDS Prevention Committee.

Tam said she and writer Trang Ha are writing another book, this one about the rest of her life.

The pale, thin woman has adopted and taken care of terminal AIDS patients.

Tam just returned from a shelter for teenaged girls rescued from brothels, where she cooked and played with them on the occasion of International Women's Day.

She herself has rescued hundreds of young women from prostitution, helped countless streetwalkers to change their lives, and offered shelter to street children.

She has adopted four children, three of whom have AIDS, and lives "happily" with them in the city. — VNS


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