Buddhist Monks-HIV/AIDS

Social Responsibility Movies

Buddhist Monks-HIV/AIDS

At a Buddhist pagoda in the heart of rural Cambodia, local monks use their spiritual practices to support vulnerable families, especially those affected by HIV and AIDS.

People like Ken Chanthy and her husband, both HIV positive, regularly attend meditation sessions.
At home, they are raising their children, who are HIV negative.

SOUNDBITE (Khmer) Ken Chanthy, Mother:
“Before these sessions, we were stressed and ashamed. We wouldn’t want to see anyone and felt discriminated against. But now we are lot more positive.”

They take ARV drugs daily to help keep the disease under control.

SOUNDBITE (Khmer) Ken Chanthy, Mother:
“Apart from monks leading meditation sessions, officials from the Government also tell us about taking our ARV’s exactly on time. We know our lives depend on it.”

It’s all part of the Buddhist Leadership Initiative – a UNICEF-supported programme that enlists the considerable help and resources of pagodas in this devoutly Buddhist country.

SOUNDBITE (English), Ulrike Gilbert , UNICEF HIV Specialist :
“From UNICEF’s point of view, the support monks provide to families affected by HIV is critically important because they address the spiritual needs of a Buddhist people as well as they help to mobilize material support for affected families. The vast majority of these families are impoverished and live well below the poverty line.”

As part of the effort, Venerable Monk Khun Khat, received special training to support people living with HIV and AIDS, combining it with the central Buddhist practice of compassion and helping those in need.

SOUNDBITE (Khmer) Khun Khat, Monk:
“Buddhism teaches that we can’t live in isolation. Even if you have difficulties or challenges, you have to live in the society.”

Today, Khun Khat is visiting a neighbouring pagoda where children are meeting.

They are all vulnerable in one way or another. Some are HIV positive. Others are from AIDS-affected households. Some are struggling with other issues. All these children need support and guidance.

And Khun Khat can draw on his own experiences of losing both parents at age 12.

At the end of these sessions material help such as school supplies and money is handed out, which supports children both materially and spiritually.

The government also plays a key role in linking communities with a range of services.

SOUNDBITE (English) Sam Sorpheann, Director, Provincial Department, Cult & Religion:
“The material and the spiritual must go along hand in hand. You cannot just give money without education and advice. And they need to take away something inside, with education from us, and spiritual guidance from the monks.”

As the session ends, the children leave with valuable lessons to share with their communities.

SOUNDBITE (Khmer) Ung Chantha, 17 years old:
“I pass on what I have learned from here to my brother and sister and also my neighbours

SOUNDBITE (Khmer) Min Srey Mom, 14 years old:
“And I share the information with my friends.”

Taking their teachings to people’s homes is a valuable part of the monks’ work.

Cheng Sophea has received particular help from Khun Khat for a number of years.

She was diagnosed with HIV in 2002, and her husband died of AIDS in 2003.
Cheng Sophea is bringing up their son on her own.

Sophea makes a living from the small recycling business she runs in her neighbourhood.

SOUNDBITE (Khmer) Cheng Sophea, Mother:
“It is not a good job, but I have no choice and it means we can get some money to support us.”

And with the help of her mediation practice, she has learned to cope with her anger.

SOUNDBITE (Khmer) Cheng Sophea, Mother:
“Before I started in the programme I used to think I was the only one suffering. And I would get angry and hit my son. But the programme has helped me carry on with my life.”

SOUNDBITE (Khmer) Seung Pahna, Son:
“There are still days when she does not feel good, but now she won’t hit me anymore.”

Beyond helping this one family, the monks’ home visits have a wider impact on the wider rural community.

SOUNDBITE (English) Ulrike Gilbert, UNICEF HIV Specialist:
“So that has been instrumental in helping to reduce stigma and discrimination because even after 10 years into the epidemic in Cambodia, stigma and discrimination is prevailing. So monks have played a significant role to try to shift that, and I think there’s a lot of lessons we can learn in terms of broadening the scope or applying faith-based responses to other development challenges women and children face.”

The impact for these families is clear.

Early exposure to his mother’s life of medical tests and strict drug regimens has made Sophea’s son want to become a medical assistant.

While the future is uncertain, support for communities from local monks is replacing ignorance and fear, giving families tools to rebuild their lives.


Language: English

Year of Production: 2012

Length: 5 mins.

Country: Cambodia


  • Muhamed Sacirbey (UNTV-UNICEF)


  • Susan Sacirbey (UNTV-UNICEF)