A Few Words About Us
In 1996 the Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees (COERR), in Phnom Penh, Cambodia began an AIDS awareness program in the Province of Takeo. Mr. Vandin San met with target groups, informing them of the dangers of AIDS and steps they could take to prevent contracting it. While there was some concern at that time, no one could foresee how large the epidemic would become.
In the years that followed, San continued to work with COERR, dealing primarily with the training and education of Buddhist Monks. He arranged and led several conferences in each of the 9 Districts of the Takeo province in which 344 monks participated. At least one representative, from each of the 226 Buddhist Wats of Takeo attended. While no one can measure what effect this has had on the spread of AIDS in that area, one thing is certain. The people and especially the Buddhist Monks, of Takeo, were far more aware of and open to dealing with the situation than were other Provinces, where this form of education was not available.
As a result of the close working relationship COERR had developed with the Buddhist Wats of Takeo, it was decided in 1999, at the close of a seminar, that it was time to do something that would directly impact the growing AIDS problem.
In February of 2000, COERR began the construction of one of the first HIV and AIDS family health centers in Cambodia. It was unique, in that it was built on the property of a Buddhist Wat and would be used not only as a treatment center but also as a training center for Monks and family members.
At the beginning of 2000, Wayne Matthysse, a medic who also worked with COERR, assisted San with some home visits to 3 families with AIDS, living in close proximity to the project. Within a few months, that number had increased to 10 families and by the beginning of 2001, the number had risen to 40 families. By the end of 2002, the number had jumped to over 250 families and in time, the number of families that came through the program grew to more than 1500 families.
In 2001 Vandin San and Wayne Matthysse formed the local non-governmental organization called PARTNERS in COMPASSION-Cambodia and they took over the management of the Wat Opot Project from COERR. What had started off as a health clinic, soon developed into a twenty-four-hour Family Health and Care Center. Many of our clients were hospitalized with us, most returning to their homes while others stayed with us until their death. Over 500 of our members have died since 2001, many were in our care at the time of death. A crematorium was been built on the Wat and services were provided free of charge.
In August of 2003, a new relationship with MEDICINS SANS FRONTIERS completely changed the direction of our program when they offered to put all of our patients on Anti-Retro-Viral Therapy. From caring for our dying members, we were suddenly challenged to look at them in a whole different way. They were no longer dying and needed help in rebuilding their lives and the lives of their children who needed education. Partners in Compassion-Cambodia had to find new and creative programs that would provide challenging alternatives for them to choose from as they begin to restructure their lives.
In November of 2006, the last of our seriously ill patients died and it was decided that because there was a new hospital unit being built in the town of Takeo, specifically for AIDS patients, the need for us to continue providing hospice care was over… and so we began converting the Wat Opot Project into a Working Community for Vulnerable children and adults.