Cambodian Filmmaker Educates Young People About AIDS

Doung Vanneth, 24, grew up poor on a farm in Siem Reap province and still struggles to earn a living in Phnom Penh.                                               These facts make him part of the majority since about 80 percent of the people live in the countryside, and some 45 percent of the population lives on less than $1 per day.

Doung Vanneth, 24, never went to university nor stu­died filmmaking. And yet this year, with the help of a Swedish foundation, he started filming doc­u­mentaries on HIV/AIDS for and about Cam­bodian youth.

His first effort, a 10-minute sample film titled Cam­bodian Glimpses, was distributed at the 16th International HIV/AIDS Conference held in Bangkok in July. In the film, Cambodian students, construction and garment-factory workers tell of young people breaking with Cambodian traditions and sleeping together before marriage; of mothers not daring to broach the subject of sexuality and HIV/AIDS with their daughters, and of young men being careless about using condoms.

“Their culture is quite different from the culture of older people,” Doung Vanneth said of his subjects.

Their comments tally with the results of a study conducted by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports among 10,000 youngsters 11 to 18 years old.

According to the soon-to-be-released survey, nine teenagers out of 10 are aware of HIV/AIDS. But nearly 9 percent of them don’t know how the disease is transmitted, and only one out of three sexually active youngsters always uses a condom.

Even though health authorities have a great deal to celebrate on this World AIDS Day since the number of infected Cambodians aged 15 to 49 dropped from 3.2 percent in 1999 to an estimated 2.6 percent last year, Doung Vanneth’s documentary and the study shows that Cambodia still faces challenges in its fight against the disease.

Doung Vanneth and his team were selected to produce a full documentary as the pilot for the Sweden-funded Face of AIDS project, said project adviser Cedric Jancloes. Depending on results obtained in Cambodia, the project may be launched in three to five countries around the world, he said.

Based in Stockholm, the Face of AIDS Foundation has been compiling film archives on HIV/AIDS since 1987 to document all aspects of the disease and people affected by it, as some research centers have been documenting war crimes or genocides, Jancloes said.

(Additional reporting by Michelle Vachon)

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