More than 40 sex workers from Tuol Kok district gazed at a banana and laughed when a seminar leader covered it with condom to demonstrate how to use the protection properly.
The half-day HIV/AIDS Awareness and Prevention seminar held Sunday provided information for sex workers to protect themselves from the deadly disease.
But the course wasn’t organized by a women’s group or an NGO. It was instead run by students at Phnom Penh’s Regent College.
The seminar was organized by 15 students in the Working Internationally class as their final project in a 10-week course in learning to plan and implement a project transferable to the work place.
Led by instructor Rodil Tolentino, the students throughout the course discussed social issues in Phnom Penh. They chose AIDS as a topic for the seminar.
The instructor said the students targeted the disease and the brothel workers because they consider AIDS to be one of the most important issues in Cambodia. Sex workers are among the most vulnerable to the disease.
The students collected $400 from local businesses to fund the seminar, researched AIDS issues and asked NGOs to assist in designing the program.
“In the beginning, the students were worried that they might not be able to implement the seminar, especially when they sent letters to businesses,” Tolentino said. “But they became confident—‘Yes, we can do it!’—after that part. I believe they learned skills needed to plan and implement a project through the class.”
During Sunday’s seminar, students gave a pop quiz to the participants to raise AIDS awareness in a fun way, giving the winners prizes such as T-shirts and condoms.
Many of the seminar participants found the experience beneficial.
“Many NGOs have come to the area to give us advice and to distribute condoms. But it is the first time I have attended a workshop about AIDS like this,” said Noun Mon, 26, who has worked for brothels in Tuol Kok for a year. “It is very important to us to get out of the district and attend seminars like this.”
Kim Phally, a Cambodian Women’s Development Agency volunteer who advised the students in organizing the seminar, said that not all sex workers use condoms to protect themselves. The seminar would raise awareness on condom use among the sex workers, she said.
The Regent College students said the project helped them gain new skills and the self-confidence to implement a project in a real world.
“The seminar was successful. We’re very happy about that,” said student Lu Vouchly, 26, who also works for the Australian Embassy. “We’re now confident to organize other projects.”
A recent Health Ministry report shows that four out of 10 prostitutes are infected by HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS.