Global Lens Reflections on life, the universe, and everything

Enough stigma

Buddhist monk Han Kimsoy visits Prak Marin at her home in the Beungkak neighborhood of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Prak Marin is HIV positive. The monk works closely with the Salvation Centre Cambodia, an organization that works with Buddhist monks and other activists to do education and advocacy and care for people infected or affected by HIV and AIDS. Two of her children sit on the entry to her house. The poor Beungkak neighborhood sits atop a lake, with many houses built on stilts above the water.

In the last few years I’ve shot a lot of images related to HIV and AIDS. Because today is World AIDS Day, I wanted to pick just one. Would it be a care giver in Malawi, one of those unsung heroes on the front line of the war against suffering? Would it be an angry activist in a demonstration at one of the International AIDS Conferences I’ve covered, or maybe even a personal shot of me posing with a dancing condom at the Mexico City IAC? Would it be a Sister of Mercy caring quietly for a woman living with AIDS in Port-au-Prince? Would it be children in Johannesburg writing letters to their government about better access to ARVs? I browsed around for a while and decided on this one, a sort of quiet image where a Buddhist monk, Han Kimsoy, is visiting Prak Marin at her home in the Beungkak neighborhood of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The whole neighborhood is built on stilts atop a polluted lake. Two of her children sit on the entry to her house. There’s a fascinating protocol for hanging out with monks, and one of these days I’ll write about it here. But the point for today is that Prak Marin is HIV positive. Han Kimsoy visits individuals living with HIV and AIDS and leads group sessions in several neighborhoods around Phnom Penh; I spent a couple of days photographing him at work. He’s a leader in the Buddhist community, pushing other monks to greater levels of education and advocacy on behalf of people infected or affected by HIV and AIDS. Just as in the Christian community and other religious traditions, there has been maturation among Buddhists in terms of how they relate to HIV and AIDS. After an initial response which contributed greatly to stigma and discrimination, there is now a greater attitude of love and acceptance. That’s critically important, as many people living with the disease will tell you that it’s not the virus that kills you, it’s the rejection and hatred. We’ve got a ways to go, obviously, but fortunately we’ve got some religious leaders like Han Kimsoy showing us the way.

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