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Mr. Seum Sophal was born on February 6, 1972. He grew up in Chambokhae Village, Kompong Thakov Commune in the Kralanh District of Siem Reap Province. Sophal’s father, a welder in Battambang, became a soldier for the Lon Nol regime, and was killed just two months after Sophal’s birth. Sophal’s mother remarried in 1976 during the Khmer Rouge regime.  

In January 1997, Sophal received a scholarship from Raffles Hotel in Singapore to study Hotel Management there. Upon completing his training, Sophal returned to Cambodia and was appointed Senior Communications Supervisor of the Grand Hotel D’Angkor, Siem Reap’s first five-star hotel. In 2000 Sophal got married and had a son, and the following year he and his family moved to Phnom Penh. In Phnom Penh Sophal worked as a project coordinator at Nawarat Patanakarn Ltd, managing and supervising approximately 1,000 laborers based in Pursat and Battambang provinces. Sophal was able to buy a house, and his family’s quality of life continued to improve significantly.

In May 2006, however, Sophal tested positive for HIV. He recalls, “I felt very exhausted, depressed, stressed. I sold everything I owned just to treat my health. Finally we [my family and I] decided to move back to Kralanh District in Siem Reap, to save money. My wife and I did everything we could just to survive.”Sophal explained that in Kralanh, he and his wife worked laborers breaking up rocks to sell. They made enough money to live day-to-day and were able to send their son to school. But just when things were settling down, Sophal’s health deteriorated and he found himself bedridden and unable to work.

Fortunately, a home based care team from Salvation Centre Cambodia (SCC), a local NGO, visited Sophal’s home and provided him with physical and psychosocial support. With this support, Sophal’s health improved. Although he was still weak and unable to work, he was getting stronger. In 2009, SCC offered him work as a volunteer advisor in Kralanh district. Sophal’s self-confidence was still seriously damaged because of his past inability to work, however, with continued support from the SCC Project Coordinator and Director, his confidence grew, and he accepted the job. Sophal regained his physical strength alongside his confidence, and was soon able to drive his motorbike and work to support himself and his family. The next year, SCC promoted Sophal to the position of Project Coordinator, and he managed the Health Systems Strengthening Project in Siem Reap. In 2012 Sophal was promoted again, this time to the position of Representative of SCC’s Siem Reap branch office. He now manages all activities for the branch.

Sophal’s health continues to improve and he is happy with his work. Sophal hopes that his story will help other PLHIV to find the strength to stand up for themselves so they can support themselves and live fulfilling lives. He hopes his story inspires PLHIV to think positively about their future and the future of their children. Sophal believes that if PLHIV make an effort to assert themselves as citizens capable of contributing positively to their community’s political, economic, social, and cultural development, their lives will improve. He no longer feels discriminated against in his community, in fact, he says, the community appreciates him and the work he does.