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monks Sewing temple water festival

Rough Cut
Cambodia: Care and Comfort
Buddhist monks rally to fight AIDS
 

 

Matthew Ozug

Matthew Ozug is a documentary radio producer at Sound Portraits, where he's produced a variety of pieces including "Parents at an Execution," which won a Thurgood Marshall Award. Since 2004 he has also overseen the national MobileBooth tour for StoryCorps, the Peabody-award winning oral history project. Ozug graduated from Harvard and also studied at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. He traveled to Cambodia as a fellow of the
International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins University.

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Length: 8:29

Genocide trials have begun in Cambodia for the surviving leaders and officials of the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror in the 1970s. The "killing fields" of that era are what Cambodia is most known for internationally. But for years, the country has quietly held another frightening distinction: The nation with the highest AIDS rate in Asia.

AIDS was first identified in Cambodia in 1993. The virus spread quickly, with Cambodia's sex industry fueling the epidemic. To make matters worse, the nation's health care system, still reeling from the Khmer Rouge, struggled to respond. By some accounts, the regime left fewer than a dozen doctors in the entire country, which had an estimated population of 6.3 million. By 1997, Cambodia's HIV/AIDS infection rates had reached 3 percent of the population. Today, UNAIDS, the joint United Nations program to combat the AIDS epidemic, places that number at 1.6 percent. I went to Cambodia to explore the factors leading to the decline.

Map of Cambodia

Map of Cambodia

By the late 1990s, the Cambodian government had begun to tackle the crisis head on, freely enlisting aid from international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and turning to a surprising local source -- Cambodia's community of Buddhist monks. I'd come across their work with people living with HIV and AIDS while researching my senior thesis on a very different group of monks: American Trappists. I was also aware of the HIV/AIDS work being carried out by monks in neighboring Thailand, where they continue to have a profound positive effect. But there was something particularly compelling about the work of the monks in Cambodia, whose very existence had been virtually wiped out by the Khmer Rouge. By 1979, an estimated 95 percent of Cambodia's monks were killed or intimidated into leaving the monkhood. The Pol Pot government set aside monks as a "special class" to be forced into labor or destroyed, along with their temples.

As we were editing this story, images began to surface from Burma (also known as Myanmar) showing thousands of monks leading mass demonstrations. It's this similar ability to galvanize people and shift public opinion that makes the Cambodian monks not only important caregivers, but powerful messengers in ending discrimination, spreading public health information and helping control the disease among the most vulnerable.

-- Matthew Ozug

REACTIONS

Somnieng Hoeurn - Davenport, Iowa, USA
Dear Matthew,
My name is Somnieng, a Cambodian Buddhist monk of Siem Reap. I found your report accidentally and my myself in your report too. You might recall who am I?. I can say I am one of the first monks in Siem Reap who started healing center for HIV/AIDS patients in this province. Just since 2005, I have been working with the orphans and education. Anyway, thank you very much for sharing this with the world. Somnieng
somniengangkor@yahoo.com
www.lifeforhope.org
www.watdamnak.org

(anonymous)
That was an excellent piece but sorry to say,video's and stories like this are seen once/twice a year. I went to Cambodia a few years ago and was blown away not by the country,but the people.The warmth ,intelligence and openess to talk about about their past and present gave me a better understanding of the country.But just like the recent story from Burma,after aweek or two they become yesterday's recycled paper.No more stoies from BBC/Channel 4 or any of the natinal papers (the only one maybe the Guardian).Keep up the good work and thank you for continuing to report on stories that do not seem to be popular with the major networks.James D.
London.

(anonymous)
Thank you FRONTLINE. These detailed exposures you provide offer us a much needed perspective on a not so far away world. Great job!

Eve - New York, New York
I just returned from a trip to Cambodia and it was wonderful to watch this piece! Thank you for shedding light on a dire situation that truly needs to be exposed. This is a beautiful country, as you revealed in the video, and there is too much needless suffering there.

Brooklyn, NY
Such an important piece. It's so powerful in its framing of HIV/AIDS around religion and history. Beatiful cinematography.

Mary Elliott - Wilmington, DE
This is a moving and beautifully photographed piece.