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HRW: Cambodian government creates AIDS colony

July 27, 2009

Human Rights Watch is reporting this from Phnom Penh:

In June 2009, the Cambodian government forcibly relocated 20 HIV-affected families living in Borei Keila, a housing development in Phnom Penh, to substandard housing at Tuol Sambo, a remote site 25 kilometers from the city. Another 20 families were moved there on July 23. The families were resettled into crude, green metal sheds that are baking hot in the daytime and lack running water and adequate sanitation. Just meters away, higher-quality brick housing is being built, with the assistance of a nonprofit group, for other homeless families slated for resettlement at Tuol Sambo. Even before the HIV-affected families were resettled at the site, local people referred to the green sheds as “the AIDS village.”

This single room is now home to a family of seven.

This single room is now home to a family of seven.

Reading about this disaster brings me right back to teaching what was supposed to be a one-hour class on the basics on HIV/AIDS last summer. When my students, who were all in high school or university, finished an article with reading comprehension questions about HIV/AIDS, I asked if they had any questions. Discussing the questions they had, especially surrounding myths about HIV transmission, ended up taking the next 3 classes. We talked about the issue in terms of biology (How did the HIV virus develop?), history (Who brought the virus to Cambodia?), sex (Do they make condoms for women?), social practices (Is it safe to shake hands with someone with HIV?), and ethics (What can we do to make our community a better place for people living with AIDS?).

It was one of my proudest moments as a teacher, because I felt like I was really getting across information that my students wanted and needed. It also made me realize how necessary comprehensive sex education is for students in Cambodia, and in the U.S. How differently would these families be treated if the people in power, as well as the communities around them, treated them with dignity, respect, and understanding?

It’s a topic that I hope to revisit with some of these students in the future, and I hope that eventually, the Romero Center will be able to positively contribute to education about HIV/AIDS in Battambang.

“Living with HIV with dignity means more than just ARVs,” said Aditi Sharma of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition. “It means these families should have a healthy environment with adequate nutrition, proper sanitation and a continuum of care that addresses the social, psychological, legal, and economic consequences of living with HIV.”

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