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Not your average condom bar

AFTER seeing no real sex education at school or free talks about sex related questions, Dr Fil B. Tabayoyong, Jr. decided to open a place for youth to learn about these things in 2009. At the Condom Bar, anybody ^ can ask questions, get a blood test or pick up free condoms. We talked with him to find out more.

Q: Where did you get the idea of opening a Condom Bar in Phnom Penh and why?

For the past 30 years, I worked for famous NGOs on projects that were often related to fighting HIV. I first came to Cambodia in 2004 and two years later I decided to create the Baptist Missionary Association of the Philippines. I opened the Happy Heart and Wellness Clinic to provide HIV/Aids counseling, among other services. Next to this clinic, there was an empty place. When my wife suggested opening a bar, I had the idea of setting up a pilot project called Condom Bar. I had already seen a bar like this in Thailand and I had a lot of patients who did not know anything about their reproductive system or HIV.

Q: Is the bar attracting a lot of people even though sexuality is a taboo topic in Cambodia?

At first, the name was a problem, but at the same time it made people curious. Some even thought that there would be women inside. When they enter, they always laugh seeing all the special posters we have, but the results are really encouraging. As many as 300 to 400 people come each month: gay people as well as policemen, professors, students and even monks. Those who are too shy to enter can just call me or send me an email. Regular customers call themselves citizens of the Repub lic of Condoms and are committed to educating their circle of friends. Condoms are everywhere but nobody tells them how to use them, so I thinkfun is the best way to tackle this issue.

Q: What does a typical conversation at the Condom Bar sound like?
Most of the customers want to know how to use a condom, whether or not it is hygienic and sometimes they ask if they have to wash it afterwards! They don't know about fertility and menstruation either. They also ask questions about anatomy and pleasure, even if they have been married for five years.

Q: What you are doing here is quite rare. Does this make the task difficult?
It's true that in Cambodia, sex is private and secret. However, the government also organises information campaigns. Our advantage is that we do it on a personal basis. We offer them confidentiality. It is not a problem that the government does not do the same thing. I see it as a complement, and it is maybe easier as I am a foreigner.

What solutions would help improve information globally?
A: We definitely need more communication. If we had several bars, it would have more impact. We should have more places which really respond to people's questions. If we are able to get some funds, I would like to open a second place like this, on Riverside for instance. We also need more Cambodian people involved. I am currently training one and I also would like to have HIV-positive waitresses to fight against stigma.

Interview by Emlie Boulenger

______________________________________________________
The Condom Bar is in building #47, St 432 For more details,
write an email to condom.bar2009@yahoo.com or search for
Condom Bar on Facebook.

We definitely need more communication. If we had several bars, it would have more impact. We should have more places which really respond to people’s questions. If we are able to get some funds, I would like to open a second place like this, on Riverside for instance. We also need more Cambodian people involved. I am currently training one and I also would like to have HIV-positive waitresses to fight against stigma.

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