From drug diva to drug advisor: Cambodia’s peer educators

Un Srey Tha is one of Korsang’s peer educators. “I educate and explain to people about drug addiction and disease, including STDs and HIV/AIDS,” she says. “In places where people inject heroin I encourage them not share syringes and explain to them how to use clean ones, so they don’t catch HIV or hepatitis. I also tell them to come to Korsang’s drop-in centre to get blood tests.”

Korsang, an organisation based in Pnohm Penn in Cambodia, helps injecting drug users. It provides advice and guidance on how to minimise harm so people can use drugs more safely. KHANA, one of our Linking Organisations, supports Korsang’s harm reduction work with finance and technical input.

" I know how to take care of my health and I can explain to others how to take care of theirs.”

— Un Srey Tha

Un Srey Tha is one of the many people Korsang has helped. “Before I started working for Korsang, I worked in a karaoke parlour playing songs for the customers. At that time, I was using drugs. I became interested in Korsang when some outreach workers came to an area near my house with information. I registered my name with them so that I could get health services.”

Becoming a peer educator is one of Korsang’s main programmes and ways of working. Tango, the Director explains. “A lot of our drug users want to quit or they want to do something more. So they start off by volunteering with the peer educator programme. All our peer educators used to be volunteers and before that they were participants on our programmes.”

Life-changing experienceUn Srey Tha tells us how her life has changed since being involved with Korsang.“I feel completely different compared to before. In the past, I just thought about earning money in order to buy drugs. Coming to Korsang helped me to stop. This is my biggest achievement. My second achievement is gaining a lot of knowledge on health problems. I didn’t know how to take care of myself before, but since I started working for Korsang, I know how to take care of my health and I can explain to others how to take care of theirs,” she says.

Model example

KHANA values Korsang’s work highly “I see that Korsang do a great job of changing attitudes amongst the most high-risk people: injecting drug user,” says Hul Sivantha, a team leader for KHANA “This is because of their model of leading by example, where many people who have quit using drugs become peer educators or peer facilitators. Most of Korsang’s staff and peer educators are very active, you can’t see that anywhere else in Cambodia.”