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Photo by Kirsten Belloni

It has been two years since Thythy’s husband died of AIDS. The 29-year-old mother of two gets by on donated rice and fish from her church, and the meager earnings she makes from washing clothes in the rural fishing village of Prek Pneu, Cambodia.

Last year, Thythy’s world was shattered when she was diagnosed with HIV.

“After I heard that I have HIV, I wanted to kill myself. I wanted to die. I felt hopeless,” she said from the weathered deck of her floating home. “But I also asked myself, ‘If I die, who will take care of my children’?”

An estimated 48 percent of all new HIV infections in Cambodia result from spousal transmission, according to a 2014 report by The National AIDS Authority.

Thythy is fighting to stay alive for her daughter and son.

She sends her 10-year-old daughter, Sreyroth, and 8-year-old son, Vannah, to the local Asian Hope Catch Up School where they are surrounded by caring educators. Inside the one-story brick building, the staff teach reading, writing, and math to children who are several grade levels behind or have not been able to attend school at all.

At the Catch Up School, students have a chance to “catch up” to their age appropriate grade level so that they can complete their education. The free program serves over 600 impoverished children in four Cambodian communities where they receive nutritious food, clean drinking water, and regular medical and dental check ups. The teachers also host monthly community workshops where families learn about child rights and safety, parenting skills, conflict resolution, and healthful hygiene.

Thythy’s daughter Sreyroth says she is always excited to attend the Catch Up School in her community because she feels safe.

“I don’t like the public school because the teachers, they always hurt me when I don’t have money to pay them, they hit me,” Sreyroth says. “I like the Catch Up School because I feel loved and nobody hits me.”

When Sreyroth started attending the Catch Up School five years ago, she had problems with writing and math. Over time, Sreyroth has shown great improvement academically and she is now learning at her grade level.

In this small community where they feel like outcasts, Asian Hope has provided this family of three with a sanctuary where the children are accepted and loved, and Thythy now has new hope for their future.

“If we don’t have the Asian Hope school, Sreyroth cannot read and write. You’re like blind people. You go somewhere and cannot read and understand what is going on,” Thythy says, adding that she is illiterate and did not attend school. “My dream for my children is I want them to keep going with their studies so they can find a good job. “

FROM THE EDITOR
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