Salvation Centre Cambodia (SCC) has grown from a small initiative to becoming a well functioning local organization. SCC was established as a local non-profit non-governmental organization (NGO) by two Cambodian University students in 1994. The initiative was to respond to the urgent need of Cambodian people for education, care and support relating to HIV/AIDS, and this endeavor has consequently inspired others to initiate similar activities. SCC strategically works with Buddhist monks to implement HIV/AIDS prevention and care activities.

Through the compassion and commitment of a group of core Buddhist monk trainers, fieldwork volunteers and a dedicated team of staff, SCC has been able to improve the lives of many people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS, especially OVC, in its target provinces of Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siemreap. The Buddhist monks, nuns and Achars and their pagodas are playing a crucial role in the process of support and reform. Among the Cambodian people, most of who are Buddhist, Buddhist monks are trusted and respected and viewed as influential figures who are traditionally revered. This important position in society provides SCC’s monks with legitimacy and they effectively assists with effectiveness in providing HIV/AIDS prevention and care services to their communities.

Pagodas are a natural focal point for communities and their needs and for many years, have been serving society as centers for a multitude of education and health related activities. For example, families with low income place their children in pagodas for their education, as they cannot afford school fees or long travel to formal schools. Many who are in need of medical assistance also find refuge in pagodas. Pagodas number around 4,000 in Cambodia, with just under 54,000 Buddhist monks resident. As Buddhism is the national religion practiced by more than 90% of the population, utilizing the Buddhist monks/pagoda infrastructure provides great potential for reducing the impact of HIV/AIDS on communities in Cambodia. Many Buddhist monks already act as learning facilitators and community leaders, providing mental, spiritual and social support to people with various problems.

By adopting a train-the-trainer approach, core Buddhist monk trainers successfully cascade their knowledge, skills and expertise throughout the Buddhist monk network to maximum effect. In collaboration with UNAIDS, the Ministry of Religions and Cults and Provincial AIDS Offices, SCC monks have also been able to train several monks from other provinces.

SCC therefore encourages people, with the support of the monks, to take care of their loved ones in their own homes and communities, and to use pagodas as centers for information, education and communication (IEC). Consequently, it is vital that the work of the Buddhist monks and pagodas is recognized and strengthened, and it is hoped in the near future that Buddhist nuns will also become equally involved.

With generous support from the Norwegian Trust for AIDS research via the World Bank in 1994, UNDP/CARERE support (1997-1999) and consistent support from EED, ICCO and CAFOD, SCC has been able to ensure the success of projects it has undertaken so far. It has made an impressive and hard-fought transition from a small local organization, to a well-staffed national resource with three offices spreading across the country, capable of changing lives for the better.

This has been achieved through the provision of HIV/AIDS education and by meeting most of the basic needs of PLHIV, such as food, clothing, shelter, access to basic drugs, counseling services and social, mental and spiritual support. The involvement of monks in the response to HIV/AIDS has also been pivotal in addressing the stigma and discrimination that is often faced by many PLHIV and their families. SCC also enjoys support from and is fully authorized by the government, especially by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs.