“When we lived on the streets we were in constant fear of the police and the Department of Social Affairs. We felt afraid whenever we saw headlights in case they belonged to officials trying to clean homeless people up off the streets…,” says Sok Phoea, a young wife and mother from Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
“We heard about Korsang and we came to live at their drop-in centre straight away. Korsang has changed our lives completely,” she grins.
A place of refuge, a place of safety
Korsang was founded in 2004 by a group of young Cambodian Americans to work with injecting drug users and provide them with support and harm reduction services that weren’t available elsewhere in the country.
Sok Phoea and her husband Van Sopear both inject drugs which puts them at a very high risk of acquiring HIV.
The couple explain they are reliant on taking drugs in order to carry out their jobs. “We collect re-usable waste on the streets and sell it to a junk shop,” explains Phoea. “After taking drugs, I feel strong for two or three hours so I can go out collecting…”
“We earn around 8,000 to 10,000 riels (around $2 dollars) each day,” says Sopear.
Tango is Korsang’s Director. “We are a 24 hour programme. A lot of our service users spend the night here. Before, they used to sleep on the streets and in the mornings they would get beaten up, get injured and have a lot of medical issues. Since we opened the 24-hour drop in centre they don’t need as much medical attention.”
Korsang are the first non governmental organisation to do harm reduction work in Cambodia. “Before people weren’t really doing any harm reduction. People were doing a lot for street kids but nobody really worked with drug users,” explains Tango. “We have drug and HIV education sessions twice a day to teach people about the effects of drugs and HIV prevention.”
KHANA is the Alliance’s linking organisation in Cambodia and has been supporting Korsang since 2006.
Hul Sivantha, is team leader for the West and Central region at KHANA. “We saw the potential of the staff at Korsang. ..We want to prevent HIV infections and we focus on the rights of these groups so we became interested in Korsang’s harm reduction work.”
KHANA provides technical support to Korsang. “We tried to make their potential and experience with drugs even more effective through building their technical capacity … as well as improving their programme management. Korsang has been through many positive changes. Their staff are clearly committed and they clearly understand the needs of injecting drug users,” says Sivantha.
The work is making a difference by providing increased awareness of HIV prevention among injecting drug users and providing support to reduce the human rights violations they are experiencing but other holistic support such as a safe place to rest and receive care means that users can develop their livelihoods.
“When we were living on the streets we had nothing but here we have everything. We have a place to sleep, rice to eat and even English and Khmer classes. More importantly there are doctors available 24 hours a day. We get everything we need and feel very supported compared to our lives living on the street before,” says Sok Phoea