1.30pm – Arriving early from their communities, they waited under a large tree in a Pagoda near Andong. It’s been two years since Mith Samlanh organized the first Emotional Support Group for People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). The meetings take place every two weeks.
Today there are 45 participants, men and women from the surrounding communities. They come to share experiences and issues faced due to their infection. “I come here every time because I want to meet other people facing the same problems and maybe they can support me to find solutions. I also can get more knowledge about the treatment other health issues” says a man, 50 years of age.
The meeting begins at 2pm with a game to break the ice. Everybody sings while who were unlucky enough to be caught out dance in the center (I shortly join others in the middle…). The atmosphere is positive and welcoming.
Every meeting has a special topic, identified by the participants. This particular meeting focuses on the HIV symptom: diarrhea. PLWHA are often subject to diarrhea and if not taken care of, it can be very dangerous. The participants split into three groups and are asked to discuss the issue and share their ideas for treatment: hygiene, medicine and nutrition. All discussions and results are facilitated by participants trained by Mith Samlanh staff.
After a lot of clapping and laughter the time comes for participants to share issues they have faced in the past two weeks. One participant from the group said she was not happy when visiting the hospital last week. She felt the doctor discriminated against her because she is poor and cannot pay the ‘consultation fee’. Other participants agreed with one saying “It is because the hospital has not more funding”. Facilitators proposed that during the next meeting the group should discuss improving relationships with the doctors and hospital so they can be better prepared.
As 3.30pm approached, it was time to finish the meeting, share snacks and set the next meeting point: “see you all under this tree on next Thursday at 2pm”.
More than 200 participants join the Emotional Support Group in five different locations in Phnom Penh each fortnight.