Through a $500 private donation in 2001 by Mr. David Trevor Wright, Stung Treng Women's Development Center was originally registered as a hospice and a non-governmental organization (NGO) under the name 'Center of Destination'. It cared for many former soldiers, policemen and sex workers infected with HIV and terminally ill with one or more of the opportunistic diseases associated with AIDS.
The effects of poverty and illiteracy played a significant part in the health issues and lifestyle choices made by many of the patients. In Jan 2002, it became clear that the future focus of SWDC needed to shift from caring for AIDS patients in their last stages of life to preventing AIDS in healthy young people, particularly vulnerable women, in the Stung Treng region.
Stung Treng Women's Development Center became an NGO whose aim is to assist in breaking the cycle of poverty and improve living standards by offering programs in literacy and health education, vocational training and employment.Twelve months after the conception of the hospice, Offering education in literacy and health, including programs about HIV AIDS prevention, could significantly reduce the spread of AIDS. Offering training and employment opportunities would provide more employment choices, other than potentially harmful professions such as prostitution, while increasing skills, income generation and improving quality of life.
Today, Cambodia ranks 127th of 172 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index, and over 80% of the nation's population lives in rural area. The majority of the population relies on rain-fed agriculture for income and subsistence. Thirty percent of the Cambodian population lives below the national poverty line of less than $1 US dollar per day, and 29 percent of children under the age of five are underweight.
Major issues for poverty alleviation and development include: poor infrastructure, high level of illiteracy especially for women who only accounts for 35% of students in secondary education. Rural poverty accounts for almost 90% of poverty in Cambodia which in turn has impacted on infant mortality rates, with the current rate reaching 58 infant deaths per 1,000 live births; one of the highest rates in South East Asia. (Source: general Population Census of Cambodia 2008 and UNESCO)