Hok Samai, 42, discusses her story in the book with one of her six children, Sian Visai, 15.
new page was turned in HIV/AIDS education when the first Cambodian book about people
living with AIDS was launched on September 19 in Batt-ambang. The book, Living Openly:
HIV positive Cambodians tell their stories, was produced by Cambodian Health Education
Development (CHED), a local NGO.
It tells the life stories of nine adults from the province and explains how they
contracted HIV, and also illustrates the lives of two children who have been orphaned
by the disease. The book, which is in both Khmer and English, contains a full-page
photograph of each person.
Lok Vichet, executive director of CHED, said raising community awareness through
these stories should help reduce the number of people infected with HIV.
"The very important idea in producing this book is to tell people all around
the world: 'Don't hate people with AIDS, you have to love them,'" Vichet said.
Although the interviews for the book were conducted in June and July, only six of
the contributors were still alive by launch date. Forty-seven year old Pok Savin
was one of them, and told her story at the launch.
Savin is a farmer with seven children and contracted HIV from her husband, a motodop
driver who worked near the Thai/Cambodian border. He died in late 1998 and she became
sick three years later.
"I told my husband to stop having sex with other women and to start taking the
threat of HIV/AIDS seriously; but he would not listen," Savin said. People should
discuss the condition, she said, because so many people around the world were afflicted.
"If we let others know, they may be able to help or support us," she said.
"The families of HIV/AIDS victims also suffer, especially children, many of
whom are orphaned by this disease."
Pra Chan, the governor of Battambang province, attended the launch where he described
the theft of so many lives by the disease.
"This thief is very cruel, and that is why we have to prevent AIDS, or care
for those people living with AIDS if we cannot prevent it," Chan said. "Don't
feel lonely if you have AIDS; no-one should discriminate against you. Everyone loves
you very much because people are educated and now we should spread the news so everyone
[can] know about AIDS."
The book was funded by the Policy Project, an HIV/AIDS organization. Program officer
Im Phallay said the book was part of a campaign aimed at giving people living with
AIDS a voice, encouraging them to join support groups and fight for their own interests.
"I think it will have a great impact on the community," Phallay said.
"People will start to realize the problem and sympathize and build a supportive
environment so [those with HIV/AIDS] can live in harmony with the community."
Living Openly was modeled on a South African book on people with AIDS. One thousand
copies were printed and will be distributed in six provinces through the Cambodian
People Living with HIV/AIDS Network.