“Both of my sons are the apple of my eyes. I can sacrifice this long journey of my life because of them. I have put all of my energy and spirit for my boys with firm hope that they can have a bright future,” shared Kem Chhunheng, 38, mother of Sin Sihong, 17 and Sin Silong, 12. Chhunheng is a widow; she soon found out she was HIV positive after her husband passed away. She earned just enough to support her children who were also HIV positive. Everyday Chhunheng reminds herself of her responsibilities, giving her children the support they need to live long and have the opportunity to experience better lives. “I was so stressed and afraid when I found out that all of us have HIV,” Chhunheng said. Her husband, Sin Sina, passed away just two months after finding out his test result. Faithful to her children and her responsibilities, she muscled in as much strength, she did not let her illness drag her down.
Chhunheng was able to access some help – food and education for both of her children – from Maryknoll, Habitat for Humanity’s partner NGO that focuses on serving families infected and affected by HIV/Aids, but she continued to strive hard as she believes that it is important for her to help herself and to teach her children the same value. Chhunheng first started to sell second hand clothes at the market, then she provided cheap mobile phone service within the village, she did this until her health condition started to worsen. Despite her condition, Chhunheng still worked as a waitress for a breakfast restaurant in the market which was close to the house they rented. “I earn to pay for our house rent which costs $20 and for water and electricity which cost $8 a month,” she said.
Chhunheng begins her day at 5am to cook breakfast for her children and heads to the market to work. She returns home before lunch time to prepare food. Apart from her work in the market and maintaining her household, she would often volunteer with another HIV organization as a resource person; helping others infected with HIV to understand more about their living condition, how to deal with their problems, how to take good care of themselves and to encourage others to share their story for support. “I volunteer and work with others who face the same problem as I have. It gives me more meaning and strength. I want to let them, as well as myself know, that we are capable of supporting each other and that we cannot simply give up. We have to decide to live and fight the situation with our families,” Chhunheng confidently shared. For her sons, life also goes on, “I really love to study. Aside from the free schooling we receive, my mother also saves enough money which she uses to pay for our English classes in the afternoon. At school, I often get praised by my teacher and classmates,” said Silong. “I study English because I can see that English is an important language, and after my graduation, I believe I can easily get a good job if I know how to speak English. I really need a good job because I wish to show gratitude to my mother. She is working hard and gets very tired taking care of both of us. I love my mother so much.”
“Our new home, which our new friends from Australia so lovingly built with us will lead my family to a better life. Nothing can ever describe the happiness I have and I know my mother is very happy. This is her dream, and it has come true, finally! My brother and I now have enough space at home to do our homework after school. What a nice place it is!” Sihong excitedly shared.
“I believe my faith has led us to this new house. It will not only bring us a better life but also stronger hope to live long and healthy. This place will help our family in decreasing the expenses and increasing our savings. Soon, I can use my savings to create a small business at home. I can now sleep peacefully now that I know we are living in our own house.”