To show HIV-positive residents of Phnom Pen’s squatter communities that they are not alone, several NGOs brought truckloads of rice, noodles, kramas and other gifts to them in Stung Meanchey and Tonle Bassac communes.
The project was established by a group of four NGOs—Women’s Organization for Modern Economy and Nursing, Home Care Team, Save the Children UK, and Solidarity Urban Poor Federation. The Sunday trip was the group’s first and the NGOs plan to make similar visits a few times a year, organizers said.
“We are just going to show them that we love them by bringing them some items,” said Heng Satha, the reproductive health project team leader for Save the Children UK.
A young woman’s eyes brimmed with tears as she thanked one of the 30 volunteers for the visit. She contracted HIV from her husband, a motorbike taxi driver who died three months ago, leaving her with two children.
Kong Pov, 26, echoes this account of despair.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do in the future,” she said. “I have no job, my husband is dead, now my mother has my children in the province.”
The volunteers know which homes to visit as a result of groundwork done by Home Health Care, which visits the area once a week to bring rice or a little money to those in need. Members of the community who suspect they may have contracted HIV inform the workers, and arrangements are made for a blood test. Those who test positive do not always receive a warm response from others in the community.
“There is still a lot of discrimination, people feel isolated, parents are afraid to let their children go near people who have tested positive,” said Kong Villa, a reproductive health officer with Save the Children.
But people are more knowledgeable about the virus. “People used to think it was only prostitutes who were at risk,” Villa said. “now they realize it’s in the community, in children and families.”
Villa acknowledges that these visits will not solve people’s problems but believes they are essential on an emotional level. “Even though it’s a little, we are showing our compassion,” he said. “We tell them not to be hopeless, that AIDS is just like any other illness. Someday there might be a cure.”