Crickets Give a Woman Hope

Some Cambodians believe eating crickets regularly improves health and longevity. The insects have always been a popular ingredient in Cambodian cuisine; they’re prepared and enjoyed in many forms, including dried, boiled and fried. Consumed for their nutritional value as well as their taste, crickets are an incredibly popular snack in the markets of Cambodia and other parts of Asia. Crickets are praised as a sustainable food source; they’re rich in protein and are an excellent source of healthy fats and micro nutrients. But to a 40-year old Cambodian mother of three living with AIDS, crickets are simply a source of hope and promise.

Leap Chantheoun was working in a garment factory in Phnom Penh making $2 a day when she heard about Maryknoll’s Seedling of Hope program. Leap left her rural home for the city as a way to support her family, like many other young women she works with. These women have very little schooling and few options for employment. Most of them end up working in garment factories where ignorance, poverty and loneliness place them at high risk for HIV/AIDS. Seedlings of Hope makes it a point to proactively reach out to these women, providing awareness and sex education to reduce the spread and the stigma of HIV/AIDS. Leap, who left her two children with their grandmother in the country, was suffering from the ravaging effects of AIDS and getting weaker by the day. As a divorced mother of two living in extreme poverty, she did not have the resources to address her failing health, her crippling depression and her family’s needs. Unable to make ends meet, Leap came to Seedling of Hope for physical and psychological healing.

Established in 1995, Seedling of Hope was a response to the growing HIV/AIDS crisis in Cambodia. Current Director and Maryknoll Sister Len Montiel describes the program as a “combination of awareness education and hands-on health services.” As one of the first organizations in Cambodia to introduce home-based care and education on caring for those dying with HIV, “the possibility of a loving, dignified and compassionate death became an option for those stigmatized and marginalized by HIV/AIDS,” she says of the program. “But with the widespread use of anti-retro virus drugs, AIDS is no longer a death sentence. We focus now on the possibilities of a loving, dignified and compassionate life.”

Leap received anti-retro virus therapy through Seedling of Hope “Soon, I got much better and healthier,” she says. As she regained her health, she began to reintegrate into society, both socially and economically. She married Keo, who is HIV negative, and they had a baby girl who is also HIV-free. Their HIV-negative status is just one of the happy outcomes of Seedling of Hope’s education efforts. Leap also received a grant from the Maryknoll Sisters that she used to start a small business in her home. She is now the proprietor of a business that is really hopping — raising and selling crickets. A perfect profession for a woman named Leap!

Leap raises the crickets in her home where she lives with Keo and their three children. The house came to the family through Seedling of Hope’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity. In the room that she added on as her business grew, several open wooden crates hold crickets in various stages of development. When the insects mature in 30 days, they’re “harvested” and boiled, ready for the local market. Leap sells the boiled crickets for about 45 cents a pound. In a good month, she and Keo can earn $1000 – a significant improvement over the $2 a day she made as a factory worker.

Leap’s story is one of special ways Seedling of Hope improves the quality of life of destitute people living with HIV/AIDS. People in their prime are no longer dying from this disease but are living normal productive lives — thanks to the efforts of the Maryknoll Sisters. Their work in education and health care in Cambodia as well as 23 other countries gives hope and healing to people like Leap and her family.

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A Prayer for Hope
Like the flowers of spring,
Hope brings new  life and joy.
Send the bright spirit of hope
to our hurting world.
When we are lonely and afraid
Weary and discouraged
Send us hope.
May we live each day
In joyful hope.
We ask this through Mary,
The Mother of Hope

— prayer by Sister Noel Devine, M.M.

Royal Rice Recipe from Cambodia

Throughout the years, our Sisters have gathered various recipes from their various missions around the world. We now want to share these delicious and easily prepared recipes with you. Here’s a native Cambodian rice recipe that goes great with crickets!


Wash and dice chicken, pork and shrimp. Brown scallions in fat in skillet. Add meat and shrimp and saute for 30 minutes. Mix in cooked rice. Add fennel, sugar, vinegar, white sauce, five-spice essence, salt and pepper. Heat a few minutes to blend flavors.Pour eggs into a greased skillet and heat until almost firm, then turn over. Remove eggs from heat and cut into ¼ inch strips and add to mixture. Transfer mixture to serving dish and garnish with pimientos and additional fennel. Sprinkle with lemon juice. (Serves 4)