We first started our AIDS Patients Family Support Program (FSP) in 1999. At that time, the streets of central Phnom Penh were populated by large numbers of homeless people, men, women, children begging, with many of them afflicted by AIDS . Some of our earliest FSP patients were women whom we found dying on the city’s sidewalks. In those early days anti retroviral drugs were not available in Cambodia so the diagnosis of HIV infection was justifiably viewed as a death sentence.
We started our FSP program in direct response to the rampaging HIV infection rates in the population of Phnom Penh and the twin crises of homelessness and hunger which were by-products of the AIDS.
We encountered many, many AIDS afflicted women who had been widowed or abandoned and left destitute. As a result of this, we decided to focus our efforts only on women and mothers and only those women who were suffering from mid to late stages of AIDS. From time to time, however, we encountered a woman whose situation was so desperate and so hopeless, that we would make an exception to those parameters and admit that mother and her children into our program even though AIDS may not have been a factor in her poverty.
Early in September one of the young students in our arts school approached the school director to explain that although she would not be coming to class for a while , she wanted to ask him not to remove her name from the student rolls. She explained that her father, who had been imprisoned on drug charges, had been released from prison and had threatened to murder her mother. The mother had quickly decided to take her three young kids – ages 2 years to 10 years – and hide for a while. Things moved pretty fast and the family left the one room shack which they had been sharing with another family. Their extremely limited resources forced them to start living on the street, not very far from the location of our arts school where the oldest child, age 10, had been an enthusiastic and often joyful dance student.
Once we had come to understand the family’s situation, we were able to locate them on the streets and our team moved quickly to rent a small room for them and to enter them into the list of women in our Family Support Program. Our program now pays the rent ($50 per month) for that very small room and provides the mother with an additional $75 per month for food support to supplement the small monthly income (approximately $100 to $150) which she earns from selling bird seed, snacks and soft drinks to tourists on the riverside in front of the Royal Palace. We also purchased school kits (school uniforms, book bags, and required school supplies) for the two older children who are currently enrolled in primary school.
There is no guaranty that the woman’s husband will not come looking for them and we cannot be sure that they are no longer in danger. However, our team is ready to swing into action again if it becomes necessary in order to protect this fragile family and to try to provide a stable living situation for this courageous, hardworking mother and her three young children.
It is important to remember, families like these do not choose abject poverty and its unpredictable additional misfortunes, but without resources they have no way out when something does occur. Our goal , since the inception of Kasumisou Foundation, has been to find ways to help fragile families manage their current challenges with a longer term goal of enabling the children in those families to break the cycle of inherited poverty by providing essential social support to their families and by creating access to educational opportunities for the children.
Out of respect for privacy, there are no photos available to accompany this update.
As is always the case, we deeply appreciate your kind and generous support of the families in our program. Your support really does make a difference in their lives.
Barbara & Mark Rosasco