Soldiers Write and Perform Dramas About HIV/AIDS

It’s the middle of the night. A lonely soldier is standing guard on an army base when, suddenly, two ghosts appear and start arguing. They used to be soldiers, they tell him, and had such a good time drinking and visiting sex workers together. Then they died and, ever since, have been blaming each other for their demise.

The authors of the sketch “Whose fault is it?” may have used ghosts to reveal to the living why they died, just as Shakespeare did in “Hamlet” four centuries ago. But while the story of a prince going after his father’s murderer came out of the English playwright’s imagination, there is nothing fictional about the killer featured in this Cambodian drama.

AIDS claimed their lives, the ghosts tell the guard. They felt so much joy going about their tasks every day, and it all ended abruptly because of their careless behavior, they say.

The sketch was written by soldiers of the Special Military Region of Kandal province as part of an HIV/AIDS prevention program for uniformed forces in the country. They are one of 12 drama teams who have created and performed sketches in as many units to drive home the threat of HIV/AIDS among soldiers and police officers.

Their stories deal with the despair and fear of victims and their families when the disease strikes. In the sketch from the Department of Security Police at the Ministry of Interior, a man comes close to suicide when he realizes he may have infected his wife.

The sketch from the Defense Ministry’s officer academy in Kompong Speu is about an HIV-positive soldier who is shunned by his colleagues and thrown out by his wife, until they learn that he can live a normal life without endangering them.

In the sketch of the Royal Navy Academy in Phnom Penh, the career of a brilliant officer is cut short when he catches HIV/AIDS.

In each sketch, the message is clear—one should take precaution because AIDS kills, and no cure can prevent or reverse its course. One story features a doctor telling the mother of a sick officer that, even if she sold her house to pay for treatment, she would not be able to save her son.

The drama program started about four months ago, said Song Ngak, a medical doctor with Family Health International/Impact Project, Cambodia. Since 1999, the NGO has been conducting HIV/AIDS education programs for military and police forces, he said.

One program has consisted of training volunteers within each unit to inform their peers on the disease and precautions to take to avoid infection, said Song Ngak.

People in the military and police are at higher risk of HIV/AIDS infection than most, he said.

“They are mobile; they are away from their families; and the peer pressure [toward careless sexual behavior] is very strong.”

According to the 2000 annual behavioral survey of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Derma­tology and STD, men in the military and police visit sex workers the most often and have the highest number of sexual partners. The survey had discovered that three out of every 100 policemen were HIV positive.

So far, about 62,000 military and police have learned about the disease through the FHI/ Impact programs, said Song Ngak. The group talked to officers in various units to discuss what might and might not work, he said.

“Last year, our technical group started looking for ways to improve the spread of information—we were trying to come up with a new approach,” he said.

In January, the group came up with the idea of giving the information through sketches. “People tend to listen more attentively to a message presented in drama form than when


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