Benedict Monteiro: The HIV activist who touched many lives

Monteiro (left) and friends delivering food aid. — Pictures courtesy of PT Foundation
Monteiro (left) and friends delivering food aid. — Pictures courtesy of PT Foundation

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 10 — He was always a man who helped lift up others and worked hard to build awareness on issues affecting the destitute and marginalised.

That is how those who knew Benedict Monteiro described the late PT Foundation activist and counsellor.

He also founded Narcotics Anonymous in 1997 and was one of the pioneer outreach workers at PT Foundation’s Positive Living Programme from 2007 to 2010.

Monteiro passed away on Jan 19. He had complained of chest pains and died before reaching the hospital. He was 62.

He was cremated at the Kampung Tunku Crematorium.

Diagnosed with HIV on Dec 4, 1992, Monteiro spent the most part of his later life helping people who are living with HIV/AIDS and told them it was not the end of their lives but a new beginning.

Long-time friend and colleague Elisha Kor Krishnan remembers that he used to counsel five to six people daily and never had any favourites.

Elisha, who founded the Pertubuhan Kesihatan dan Kebajikan Umum Malaysia said Monteiro’s visits to the group’s centre in Chow Kit were welcomed.

Monteiro in happier times.
Monteiro in happier times.

“He would go after the most hardcore individuals, those really down on their luck, those with HIV and put life back into them with kind and encouraging words,” she said.

Many changed their behaviour because of him. Some went for methadone replacement therapy while others found jobs and made something of their lives.

Elisha, who had known Monteiro since 1998, said his death was a blow to the community of activists, adding that his work would live on.

Living as he preached, Monteiro, who overcame drug addiction and the challenge of being HIV-positive himself, never shied away from telling others to fight the stigma surrounding the disease and those living with it.

“Recovery is not a smooth road and Ben had his share of ups and downs during his journey to become a better person,” said PT Foundation chairman Hisham Hussein.

Hisham said Monteiro was able to get along with other drug users because he knew what they had been through as he had experienced it as well.

It was such life experiences that made him an effective motivator at PT Foundation.

Monteiro was also an inspiration because he managed to turn his life around and help others stand up to the challenges of addiction and disease.

Monteiro cherished music as much as he loved his activism.
Monteiro cherished music as much as he loved his activism.

Caregiver Fauziah Ismail, who knew Monteiro for 17 years, said he was a firm advocate of living life to the fullest and was always cheerful no matter how heated things got.

“There were times when we argued over a variety of issues but even though others and I would lose our cool, he never did. An amazingly patient man,” she said.

“He often related his personal experience of being diagnosed with HIV and telling others that this had not stopped him from living as he wanted and encouraged them with the fact new drugs and treatments were now available.”

Holding back tears, Fauziah said she had spoken to Monteiro just days before his death, having in mind to plan a reunion of old colleagues.

“There was no sign that anything was wrong. When I later found out he died on the way to hospital after complaining of chest pains, I broke down,” she said.

“He had always told me of how he wanted to ‘go quickly’ and not spend years being bedridden or hospitalised, he always wanted to care for others and could not stand the idea of burdening his family or friends.”

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