Cambodian villagers infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS are gaining new hope and respect following their involvement in agricultural business ventures with the help of a Phnom Penh-based nongovernmental organization, according to participants in the program.
The project, developed by the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), teaches “ecological” farming practices.
It also encourages HIV sufferers to take a positive view of their situation, one woman said.
“I realize that I know how to keep myself healthy,” the woman—an AIDS sufferer living in the Ba Phnom district of Prey Veng province—said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
With CEDAC’s encouragement and help, she said, she has succeeded in raising fish and vegetables and in stabilizing her health.
“I don’t eat any vegetables containing chemicals, and CEDAC is helping me to relieve my emotions,” she said. “Before that, I was so sad.”
“When I learned how to work with my emotions, I stopped getting sick,” she said, adding, “Emotions are so important.”
Another patient, living in the Preah Sdach district, said that CEDAC had given her 20,000 riel (U.S. $5.00) to begin raising chickens and fish.
Villagers who had previously discriminated against her and excluded her from community life are now her customers, she said.
“I have already sold all my adult birds and only have chicks left,” she said.
Stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV remains widespread in Cambodia and many other Asian nations, a study released last year by UNAIDS, a joint United Nations program on HIV/AIDS said.
One in two Cambodians living with HIV say they have lost their jobs or income because of the deadly virus they are carrying, the study showed.
About 63,000 Cambodians were estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS as of 2009 according to a USAID report.
By mid-2010, 86 percent of these were estimated to be receiving antiretroviral therapy, the report said.
Villagers have praised the program’s participants for their skill and success.
“They are growing water greens, long beans, and squash. These are now producing and are growing everywhere,” Bann Oun, one villager, said.
Speaking in an interview, CEDAC president Yang Saing Korma said that his organization has now built a network of 309 people living with HIV/AIDS and other “vulnerable” villagers in three districts in Prey Veng province.
Among that number, there are 209 women and 51 children, he said.
“CEDAC has taught them to turn to agriculture for their livelihood and not to rely on donations.”
Huo Sreng, a CEDAC official based in Prey Veng, said that his group has recruited 24 women and 23 men from among the larger population of patients to act as coordinators, reminding others in the infected group to take antiretroviral drugs and receive regular medical check-ups.
“With their [new] income, they can do this frequently,” he said.
Reported by Savborey Ouk for RFA’s Khmer service. Translation by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.