In Cambodia, people living with HIV and members of key populations have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, “red zones” — the hot spots classified as having the highest COVID-19 caseload — have movement restrictions that have resulted in lost livelihoods and caused many to struggle to feed their families. When Maly Phou, a technical officer with the Meeting Targets and Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC) project in Cambodia funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, heard her community was in need, she decided to do something about it.

Phou says that the idea for FHI 360 and EpiC staff and friends to raise funds to help people living with HIV and key population individuals in need of emergency food supplies was initiated by Sopheap Seng, FHI 360’s country representative in Cambodia. Phou volunteered to lead efforts, because she knows firsthand how distressing life has been for members of these groups since the pandemic began.

“I interviewed some key population [individuals] and people living with HIV in the past. I know they were living a very hard life even before COVID-19, so I can’t imagine how hard [it is] for them to survive during this critical time,” Phou said.

Phou is collecting funds, buying supplies, putting the packages together, and delivering them herself or via local community-based organizations (CBOs).

Each package includes 10 kilograms of rice, five cans of fish, noodles, several bottles of fish sauce, several units of soap, a bottle of hand sanitizer, a box of masks, and a few dollars in cash for recipients to purchase eggs or vegetables.

Phou noted that when the food packages are delivered, the recipients are “so happy, even if it’s just a small package.” She believes the packages make recipients feel they have not been left out or forgotten. Witnessing their joy makes her want to raise more funds to help additional vulnerable individuals and families.

To date, the EpiC Cambodia team has raised more than US$3,700 and collected 30 blankets and 100 bottles of hand sanitizer. Food packages have been assembled and delivered to more than 230 families through local CBOs, including Men’s Health Social Service, Men’s Health Cambodia, Cambodian Women for Peace and Development, Cambodian People Living with HIV Network, and ARV Users Association.

The EpiC Cambodia team plans to continue raising funds until the red zone restrictions are lifted. Along with these volunteer efforts, the team continues to deliver on its core mission of meeting the HIV prevention, care, and treatment needs of key population individuals and people living with HIV in Cambodia and ensuring uninterrupted access to services during the pandemic.

“My dad always tells me that part of being a human is helping others and [loving] each other,” Phou said. “He’s a kind person who inspires me, and I want to follow in his footsteps. So, I just want to help [people] as much as I can.”

If you wish to donate to EpiC Cambodia’s efforts, please contact Maly via email at malyphoupsy@gmail.com or pmaly@fhi360.org.

This photo story was developed by Maly Phou, Technical Officer, EpiC Cambodia; Sopheap Seng, Country Representative Deputy Director, EpiC Cambodia; Steve Wignall, Project Director, EpiC Cambodia; and Virak Vinich, Social & Behavior Change Communication Technical Advisor, EpiC Cambodia. Photo Credit: EpiC Cambodia.