Prak Sopheap

Prak Sopheap – Borei Keila.

Sopheap stands outside her shop. She was forced to close the shop at the school as she could not leave her belongings unattended. © Chris Kelly 2010.

Sopheap is probably the bravest person I have ever met. As I was researching this project, we went to visit Toul Sambo, a relocation site on the outskirts of Phnom Penh built to house the HIV+ families who were evicted from Borei Keila. It was during that trip that we first met with Sopheap. She was evicted from her home at Borei Keila when the construction project began, and was then evicted twice more from the temporary accommodation provided by the government. She was one of ten remaining HIV+ families who had been given a verbal promise of a new apartment by the city governor, she was renting a small and dingy room along with three other families. Borei Keila was meant to be a model for how re-development could work, with families being given apartments on-site, but as the process continued, it became apparent that corruption and discrimination was forcing many families with HIV+ members out of the community and to the outskirts of the city.

We explained to Sopheap that we could not help her financially, that we could not intervene, and that we would in all likelihood be a burden to her, rather than a help, we explained that by allowing us to film with her, she may come under pressure from the authorities, or may even be mistreated, or prevented from receiving an apartment, or discriminated against by other families in the community, because of her association with us. She said she understood, and she said that she was ready to sacrifice her own future, if it meant that she could help other Cambodian’s, because in doing so, she could help create a better future for her two children, and for the rest of Cambodia. Widowed by the disease she caught from her husband, she thought only for her children, she spent her days fighting with the corrupt officials and authorities, trying to run a small shop selling sweets at a nearby school while taking care of her two wayward children. Her son was addicted to yamma, a methamphetamine drug that is increasing in popularity in South East Asia. The drug is highly addictive, and has a whole plethora of unsavoury side effects. Her daughter worked in a karaoke bar in order to help pay for food and their daily living, which in Cambodia often means prostitution, and can bring shame on the family. But despite the gruelling hardship, and her life threatening illness; her sense of humour and her rare bravery and strength always inspired those around her.

She was eventually evicted for a fourth time, when her private landlord moved back into the house he was renting to them. As part of the development plan, families eligible for a new apartment had to first destroy their old homes, preventing other families from moving in after they left. Sopheap has been living in a derelict building without any walls, with no running water, no toilet, no electricity and no security. She is essentially homeless. She is surrounded by human filth and the floor floods up to her knees every time it rains. Mosquitoes thrive in the dank and stagnant pools of water that surround her bed, her health is deteriorating.

Sopheap sits with neighbours at her new home after being evicted for the fourth time. © Chris Kelly 2010.

The authorities have repeatedly threatened her, telling her that if she continues to bring the western film crew with her, she will not receive an apartment, but she tells them that we are just making a film about her living conditions, and not to worry about us. The other families pick on her, and when we talk to her about the threats, she insists that we continue to film.