While doing some internet research for a project I am working on I discovered Aki Ra named CNN Hero of the Year 2010 for his work clearing landmines in Cambodia. As you all know one of Jackie's future projects is a movie about landmines and landmine victims in Cambodia and he has visited Cambodia more than once. Read more HERE, and HERE on Jackie's website and HERE about his visit in 2005
Short video of Jackie's 2005 visit to Cambodia with the UN:
Here is the story of Aki Ra's life quoted in its entirety from his website. After reading his story and you would like to help you can make an online donation through paypal HERE to their charity partners the Landmine Relief Fund. It is incredibly expensive clearing mines. It costs about $1,400 US a mine or $5 US for every square meter of cleared land. The statistics of people (mainly children) killed or maimed by mines are horrific. It is estimated that about 40 000 people live in Cambodia as amputees. At least the same number again are killed or die from inadequate medical care in remote areas.
THE STORY OF MY LIFE - by Aki Ra
The aim of writing this story is to highlight the horror of landmines which are still prevalent in Cambodia and also to share some of my xperiences and my dreams for the future. I work solely for the people of Cambodia and in past years, I went regularly into the rural areas and jungles of my country to help clear landmines of which there are an estimated to be over three million. I have found many thousands of relics of the war from clearing the mines and exhibit them at the Siem Reap landmine museum of which I am the curator.
My only goal in life is to make my country safe for my people.
A Short History of Cambodia Before I Was Born
The following historical account of Cambodia has been passed down to me by word of mouth. In 1866, the French colonized Cambodia. In 1942, the Japanese invaded Cambodia and defeated the French who left to fight in Europe. In 1945, the U.S. bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima, forcing the Japanese to retreat from Cambodia. In 1946, the French returned to Cambodia to rule again. The following years saw The Ho Chi Minh and Viet Minh armies fight the French in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
In 1953, Prince Sihanouk introduced civil service for all Khmer students and by 1954, Cambodia declared independence. Meanwhile, the Viet Minh were still prevalent in Cambodia. Dep Choun, the leader of the Cambodian army, was determined to overthrow Sihanouk but failed and instead granted Dep Choun power over Siem Reap province, Kam Phun Tom province and Battambang province. For the next ten years, Cambodia remained relatively peaceful under the reign of Prince Sihanouk.
In 1969, the United States began anti-communist bombing raids in Cambodia and Laos, alongside the war with Vietnam. In 1970, General Lonol, leader of the Cambodian army, held a successful military coup against Prince Sihanouk and then Sihanouk retreated to China. From there, Sihanouk broadcast to the Cambodian people to fight Lonol's army with the support of the Viet Kong and Chinese troops. Lonol, however, had the support of powerful allies from Thailand, South Vietnam and the USA and by 1973, he defeated the Viet Kong.
Meanwhile in Cambodia, a force called the Khmer Rouge, comprising mainly jungle rebels, were becoming a stronger army and wanted to gain power of Cambodia. Fighting continued between the Khmer Rouge and Lonol's armies until the USA and the South Vietnamese, along with the Thai forces, pulled out of Cambodia in 1975, leaving Lonol's army to fall to the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh on the April 17, 1975, victoriously marching through the streets promising peace for Cambodia. For the next four years, the Cambodian people would suffer greatly under the leadership of a communist dictator and the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot. His idea was to create an Agrarian system that had everybody working in fields in a way that took them back in time 400 years. By way of implementing this system, the Khmer Rouge took a census of every citizen's job, family and processions in order to re-organize society. Even the calendar year was turned back to year zero. Educated people were considered the enemy and were mercilessly tortured and killed in the many killing fields around Cambodia. The Cambodian army was forced to hand over their weapons and possessions with the promise of a new way of life. Instead they were herded in trucks, taken into the jungles and brutally murdered. Between
the years 1975 and 1979, it is estimated that over three million people died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.
I am not sure of the exact date of my birth but I have information from an old teacher who thinks she remembers me from that time telling me that I was born in about 1973. I have always lived in Siem Reap province in Northwest Cambodia and have spent most of my life surrounded by guns, artillery and most of all, the horror of the landmine.
My parents were both killed by the Khmer Rouge for committing very simple crimes when I was only about five years old and at that age, I was brought up by the Khmer Rouge to work in their army. I was taught to lay mines, fire guns and rocket launchers and make simple bombs.
At the age of about ten, I had my first gun at the age of ten and I was forced to fight for the Khmer Rouge.
At the age of about fourteen, the Vietnamese overthrew our village and I was given the option of joining them or I would be killed. I was conscripted into the Vietnamese army and went to fight against my former army, the Khmer Rouge.
I stayed with the Vietnamese army until 1990 when they eventually pulled their troops out of Cambodia and I went on to join the Cambodian Army which was still fighting the Khmer Rouge which had strongholds in the Siem Reap area.
In 1993, the United Nations sent peacekeeping forces to the province and I went to work for them, helping them clear the many mines that had been laid over the years by the various fighting forces.
In 1999, I opened the Landmine Museum in Siem Reap near Angkor Wat.
My Very Early Years
My family was separated when I was a baby. My mother and father lived in villages 5 km apart. I grew up in a house with about ten other children and one or two adults. We worked long hours in the fields pulling ploughs like cattle as the new regime did not allow machinery. We were fed very little, mainly rice soup, and we very quickly became undernourished.
My father, who used to be a teacher, was given a new job of constructing the roads. He was underfed and overworked and soon became very ill. He was admitted to the hospital and given "medicine." The medicine was actually tablets made of rabbit droppings and the IV serum was actually just root-stained water. Consequently, my father was still sick after ten days and also starving. That day, he was given a big bowl of nutritious soup which he very quickly ate. When he had finished eating, the Khmer Rouge accused him of lying about being ill and took him away and killed him as punishment.
Consequently, whenever I was ill, I was scared to tell anyone as I knew what would happen.
My mother had been given the job of collecting sewage from each of the houses which was used as fertilizer. If a house did not have any sewage, the people would be tortured as punishment. My mother told people to make pretend sewage from mud and water. She was considered a good worker and she was promoted to rice rationer and tailor. The only time I saw my mother was when she brought me my food. The guards always accompanied her but when they were not looking, she would sneak people more rice. In return, they would give her small animals to take to the sick people in the village. It was a simple system of helping each other to survive.
One day she was caught committing the simple crime of calling out to an old man to be careful as he was about to trip and spill his food. The Khmer Rouge did not miss anything. They had eyes in the back of their heads like a pineapple. They took my mother away and said that they were sending her to "school." School and education were severely frowned upon by the new regime and if you went to school, you never came back.
Consequently, as a child, I was terrified of "school."
As a small child, I knew more than anything else what it was like to be hungry. Everybody was living in a state of virtual starvation. Sometimes my friends and I would sneak out at night to find small animals and insects to eat. One day, my friend went to the pig trough and stole some scraps and quickly ate them. The next morning when the Khmer Rouge were carrying out their usual feces check, they noticed that one lot was different from the others and asked whom it belonged to.
My friend said that it was the pigs but there were telltale child's footprints beside it and the Khmer Rouge accused my friend of lying and killed him for the small crime of eating pig scraps.
One man was so hungry that he decided to steal a banana from a tree. The Khmer Rouge spotted him and told the village that they were going to make an example out of this man in case anyone else had similar ideas. They disemboweled this man in front of his family who were made to cheer and clap. No crying was allowed. This was also considered a crime of weakness.
Every week there would be a village meeting to decide who had been good and who had been bad. Those who had been bad, for whatever reason, would have their throats slit very slowly with palm fronds. Again the villagers were forced to cheer and clap as these people were murdered and they were taught to regard the bad people as the enemy.
One night, when I was peeing in the long grass at the side of the road, I heard a lot of footsteps and could see a long dark shadow winding slowly up the road. I thought that it was a giant snake but as it drew closer I could see that it was about 150 people marching along. I stayed very quiet and hid in the grass. In actual fact, the people were being marched to the killing fields at Ta Yet which is 40 km north of Siem Reap. They were teachers, doctors, artists, musicians and students, all people who, under Pol Pot,s new regime, were considered to be the enemy. Among them, I saw a little girl holding onto her mother,s hand. I tried to grab her arm and whisper to her to run away with me but she was very frightened and wanted to stay with her mother. This was one of my earliest memories.
Life as a Boy Soldier With the Khmer Rouge
After my parents were killed, I was "educated" by the Khmer Rouge and indoctrinated into their way of thinking. They were able to control the minds of many young orphaned children through fear. The only actual education of a formal nature that I received was when I was taught one letter of the Khmer alphabet per week. They had my innocence in their hands and were able to warp it any way they chose. I thought that the whole world existed like we did and the brutality and hardship, the starvation and all the guns, became my normal world. I came to accept their ways more and more and only knew fear if I strayed too far away from our village into unknown territory.
The Khmer Rouge taught us that the enemy was always just an arm,s length away and we had to learn songs like Victory, Power, New Government New Power, Strive To Kill The Enemy, and Everyone As One.
At the age of about ten, I was given my first gun. The gun was an AK47 and it was more or less the same size as me so I had a hard time finding a way to carry it over my shoulder. It took me a little time to get used to its weight and the kickback when I fired it. The Khmer soldiers laughed at me as I struggled to learn how to handle it. I learned to shoot by aiming at fruit in the trees, small animals and fish in the rivers. The Khmer soldiers had a huge pile of guns and would let us choose which ones we wanted to use from: AK47s, M16s, M60s and Kalashnakovs. Also, I could use rocket launchers, mortars, and Bazookas. In a way, these weapons were like toys to us children and we used to play games with them. Some small children were not familiar with guns and the Khmer Rouge would give them loaded guns with the safety pin off. One of my friends shot himself in the head accidentally because he did not understand how the gun worked.
Rocket launchers and mortars were actually easier for us to use because we would be lying down as we fired them and would not have to support any weight, as we would have to with a machine gun.
I was taught how to swim by the Khmer Rouge by the simple method of being thrown into the river. I struggled to doggy paddle but swallowed a lot of water and I would have drowned if it had not been for the help of one of my friends who dragged me from the water. To the Khmer Rouge, life was cheap and they did not care who lived or died during their years of brutality.
We were all given the same simple uniform to wear. It was black trousers and a black shirt, both loose-fitting like the peasants would wear. For shoes, we wore sandals made from tires and they were very strong. If one of the straps broke, it was simple to repair them with a small pin made of bamboo. We wore a red and white-checked scarves. I was just given black shorts and no shirt.
The Vietnamese army came to Cambodia as early as 1979 but did not reach Siem Reap until 1983. The Khmer Rouge had many camps in the jungles but the Vietnamese were everywhere on the roads. Both sides occupied temples around the Angkor Wat area. The Khmer Rouge occupied Ta Prahm and Preak Khan and the Vietnamese occupied Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Bakain Mountain where the Vietnamese General stayed.
One night we heard the Vietnamese were coming. We applied all sorts of tactics to fight against them. At one camp, the Khmer Rouge made a huge pot of soup with a lot of meat and vegetables in it and also a lot of poison from a local tree. As the Vietnamese approached, the Khmer Rouge ran away leaving the poisoned soup behind. The Vietnamese were very happy with their easy victory and sat down to eat the soup to celebrate. As they all began to fall ill due to the poison, we came back to the camp and opened fire on them, killing them all.
At the time the Vietnamese arrived, I was living in the Khmer Rouge camp learning how to set and detonate mines. The Khmer Rouge had taken such a control over my young and innocent mind that they told me that the Vietnamese were giants with huge great teeth and long moustaches. In fact, the Khmer word for Vietnam is "Yeaknan," which translates as "giant Vietnamese." As children, we were obviously terrified. I was quite happily surprised to find that the Vietnamese were exactly the same dimensions as myself.
When the Vietnamese came, both sides were evenly matched. However, after a few days of intense fighting, the Vietnamese cunningly adopted new tactics. They sent in tanks. At this time, 90 per cent of the Khmer Rouge had never seen a tank and were not sure how to combat them. The Khmer Rouge launched an attack with all they had, machine guns, rocket launchers and mortars. When the tanks stopped their approach, the Khmer Rouge thought that they had immobilized them and moved towards them. At this point, a signal was given by a Vietnamese soldier hiding in the jungle and the tanks started moving forward opening fire as they did so, killing all the Khmer Rouge.Fortunately, I had not approached the tanks. Instead, I had ran into the jungle to hide. However, unbeknown to me, Vietnamese soldiers were lying in wait for me hiding among the trees. They captured me at gunpoint and took me away.
Fighting the Khmer Rouge as a Vietnamese Army Conscript
Many of my friends had been killed but the children who were left were taken to a camp near Angkor Wat. The Vietnamese were desperate for conscripts as were the Khmer Rouge who had by this time started treating the people very well instead of brutalizing them as before. The two armies adopted the same tactics to encourage people to join them and the Vietnamese told me that if I joined them I would have rank and power, good food and money and other such promises. Although I was starving, the stories told to me by the Khmer Rouge were still fresh in my mind and I thought that they were fattening me up for something and I was very confused. However, the Vietnamese treated us very well and the village elders came to trust them and, on their advice, I slowly began to work with the Vietnamese army and started to fight against my old army, the Khmer Rouge. At this point, I still knew nothing of what was going on the outside world and continued to imagine that this kind of life was normal.
Life with the Vietnamese army continued in a similar vein as with the Khmer Rouge. We still had very little to eat and would be constantly looking for food.
Both the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese forces would raid villages and take what little food they had. I ate many bizarre things during this time, on one occasion the trunk of an elephant. The rations were very poor and the packets of rice were often found to be old and moldy with bits of rocks. If we were very hungry and were unable to find water to cook the rice with, we would pee into the plastic bag to soften the rice and many times I had to eat like this.
The Vietnamese had many camps around the Siem Reap area and placed Russian Mon 50 mines all around the perimeters. The Khmer Rouge sent a spy during the day to locate where the mines were laid. Later that night, the spy returned with some other soldiers and turned the mines around. These mines are lethal to a distance of 100 meters and are remote-controlled. When they next attacked, the mines were inadvertently discharged back towards the Vietnamese.
The Vietnamese B40 grenade launcher has a special significance for me. Sometime during the rainy season in 1988, I was attached to a Vietnamese army unit fighting the Khmer Rouge in the Siem Reap area. While marching through the jungle, one of our men noticed four or five Khmers. He slowly aimed the B40 towards them, but before he could pull the trigger, a Khmer sniper cracked some shots at the launcher. Had any of' the shots made a direct hit, it would have exploded killing all of us. Fortunately for us, the bullet just pierced the muzzle of the grenade just below the ordinance. The AK47 slug can still be heard rattling around inside. I know this because I returned to the scene a short time later and recovered the B40 as a souvenir.
When I was about fourteen, I had another experience that I will never forget. The Khmer Rouge outnumbered us one day and many of our soldiers had been killed leaving the rest of us to run for our lives. While we were running, we dropped ammunition from the magazines of our AK47s onto the ground. These appeared to be loaded with ammunition. However, we had added poison to the bullets so that when the guns were consequently tired, they would give off a toxic gas. We later returned to find the Khmer Rouge choking on the poisonous fumes and we killed them all.
The Vietnamese were responsible for destroying many of the precious statues in and around the Angkor Wat area as they used to take potshots at them when they were bored. They looted many ancient and valuable artifacts from the temples and they have never been found. They also killed many animals and birds and took vast amounts of wood from the jungles to send back to Vietnam to then sell on as a valuable commodity. Three times a day, they would chop down the wood and we have lost large amounts of our jungles as a result.
Many people between the years 1984 and 1990 were killed or injured by landmines. The hospitals were far away and there were few civilians or soldiers who had first-aid knowledge to help. Hospitals were set up in the jungle by the armies but there were many casualties and few doctors or medicines or equipment so many people died.
Many of the soldiers who were victims of mines were evicted from the army and then left to find badly-paid jobs, such as road cleaning. Many resort to begging to this day. There are still hundreds of people killed or injured every year by landmines, many of them civilians working in the fields who come across them while clearing the land. Still today you can find many weapons left behind by the army men as during fighting they were too heavy to carry. Many children are still injured or killed by such weapons and mines. Innocent curiosity often proves to be fatal.
I like to tell those who are interested about a little unusual story which occurred during an encounter that I had when I went into battle with the Vietnamese army against the Khmer Rouge. One day I was shooting across a field against the enemy when through the sight of my weapon, I saw my uncle who I was ready to shoot. This startled me and in surprise, I lowered my weapon. However, my uncle didn't recognize me and continued to shoot at me from 50 meters away. I hid in the grass and upon noticing my reluctance to shoot, my friends asked me why my accuracy which was normally good was now not good. I told them I had a headache and couldn't shoot straight. I had to shoot back, however, so I just shot over my uncle,s head until he ran away. Only last year, I spoke to my uncle and told him about what happened that day and we had a big laugh. Now we both live in peace and are happy.
Forced to Join a Third Army
It was during 1989 that the Vietnamese finally pulled out of Cambodia and I was then conscripted into yet another army, the Cambodian army, again still fighting with the remaining factions of the Khmer Rouge.
Between 1990 and 1992, still conscripted in the Cambodian army, I was finally given the option to return to school and start to study as a normal person would. However, I was called upon to fight many times against the Khmer Rouge.
I was very lucky during all my time spent with the various different armies and had many lucky escapes. On one occasion, a General of the Cambodian army was based at Banteay Meanchey and was asked to move to another area nearby. Before he left, he wanted to say goodbye to some of his friends in the villages so he requested to visit the village of Samrong. A security check was made on the roads surrounding the village to make sure that the road was safe from mines. None were found. However, the villagers forewarned the Khmer Rouge that the General would be visiting and, in exchange for cash, the Khmer Rouge gave them anti-tank mines to lay on the road to the village. It was common knowledge that, as an important man, the General would be arriving in a tank. In the morning, a convoy of ten soldiers and a pick-up truck had passed without problem. The double anti-tank mine had been placed outside the perimeters of the pick-up,s wheels and, therefore, did not detonate the mine. The larger wheels of the tank did and inside were four important men as well as the General who were crushed to death by the blast. I was sat upon the top of the tank as a lookout and the blast catapulted me into the rice paddy fields that flanked the road but I landed safely and softly.
On another occasion, I was in an army camp of thirty soldiers next to a village and we knew that the Khmer Rouge were close by in the jungle. The Khmers would come every night to fire mortar shells at our camp, killing soldiers and innocent villagers. They always moved their camp around so that they were hard to find. My army boss chose three soldiers including myself to find and destroy this band of Khmers. I took one rocket launcher and some hand grenades and my friend took rockets and AK47s. Another friend took an M16 and a different rocket. Because we had so many different weapons, we could appear to be, from a distance, a large unit. We moved towards the enemy in the dark through the rice fields changing places many times and firing the different weapons. I crept up on the Khmer unit, fired my rocket and killed all five of them. When we returned to our camp, I told my boss that no one was injured and he was very angry with me. I then told him that no one was injured because they were all dead. I was only about 17 years old.
Not all my stories are about killing and horror for people. I remember one time when I was laying mines and I noticed monkeys watching us from the trees. Monkeys are very curious and they wanted to know what we had done with wires and bombs. Unfortunately for the nosy monkeys, they tripped the wire and blew themselves up. When the soldiers heard the explosion, they thought that they had killed some of the enemy and went to see what had happened. All they found were dead monkeys and they took them home for their dinner.
After a few days, the soldiers noticed that bears would often use the same path that they had mined. Bears are much more intelligent than monkeys and on a hot day, they even make themselves a kind of hat from cut leaves. The soldiers saw the bears and looked forward to another feast. They mined the path and put a huge pot of water on to boil in anticipation. The bears came by as usual but the soldiers were surprised to see that the clever bears actually stepped over the trip wire and avoided blowing themselves up.
Clearing Mines for the United Nations
After my time with the Cambodian army, a peacekeeping force arrived, sent into Siem Reap by the United Nations. The UN went around this area and asked many Cambodian people if we wanted to work for them helping to clear the millions of landmines amongst other important jobs that needed doing after the wars.
When I first came into the town of Siem Reap, I was amazed at many things that I saw there. I had only known a life in the jungle and we lived without electricity, toilets, and roads. Even transport was a whole new world to me because I had only ever seen trucks and tanks and, occasionally, very old motorbikes. When I saw all the big cars I could not believe my eyes. When I first saw the paved roads in Siem Reap, I thought that they were a mountain that started in the town. The concrete houses were also fascinating to me because I had only ever seen shacks and huts. I touched the walls of the houses to see what they were all about. When the UN put a huge cinema screen up in the town, the people came to wonder at the film. When the cars and tanks moved on the screen, many people ran away as they thought that they were going to come right off the screen into the audience.
Many different ethnic groups came with the UN: Black African, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and many types of people we had just never seen before. For a while I thought I was either dreaming or had been transported to another planet and it took me around one month before I got used to my new surroundings.
The best day for me was when I went up in the helicopter with the UN troops. I could not believe how everything looked from the air as the pilot flew all over Angkor Wat and the jungles.
I was given the chance to go to school and study and so all round, my life took a dramatic turn for the better. I quickly learned some English and sometimes worked as an interpreter for Cambodians and also foreign members of the UN forces as not all were English-speaking. In addition to English, I also learned to speak some French and Japanese.
The UN trained me and some other people to use metal detectors and other equipment to find landmines. Although I had a lot of experience with mines, we were taught how to make them safe and spent long hours clearing the many mines in and around the Angkor Wat area. This area has been made relatively safe for a few years. We also went into the villages to explain to the people about the mines and showed them the red sign which indicates a dangerous area.
I also helped the victims of the landmines and we showed them how to look after their injuries and how to stop the blood flow should anybody step on a mine. Some victims would be carrying a gun when the stepped on the mines. They would be crazy because of the pain and might shoot people who came to help them. We had to explain many things to the villagers about the problems with the mines.
I worked with the UN for three years until they left Cambodia. I received a salary while I worked for the UN and I was feeling quite well off. After my time with them, I decided that the best step for me to take would be to carry on working to clear the mines as it was my kind of trade. However, I did not have the use of specialist equipment and had to make do with more simple tools which I have mastered.
One day in 1995, a mother, father and their six-month-old child were going to collect rice near the Thailand border in their oxcart. They loaded the cart with rice and made their way back towards home but their over-laden cart triggered an anti-tank mine on the road back to the village. Two cows and the mother and father were killed instantly. The mother, embracing the child at the moment of the explosion, saved his life. The mother and child were catapulted into an anti-personnel landmine field where the local villagers could not reach the dead
mother and the screaming child. It took three days for the villagers to first find me and then get me to the area to clear the minefield to reach the baby who, incredibly, had survived by suckling on his deceased mother,s breast. He was adopted by his grandmother and is growing up.
During my days spent clearing the mines, I would find many relics from the war and I slowly started collecting various bits and nieces and I hid them in several places around the jungles. I was living in a small rented room in Siem Reap at the time and had nowhere to keep my finds. Eventually I bought a small piece of land and built what is now my home which later became my museum, too. My first home is like a lookout tower and made from bamboo and has a grass roof. I had to build it upon bamboo stilts because when I was first there, I had a couple of incidents with robbers and looters but I greased the poles of my home and pulled the ladder up at night so they could not take anything from me.
Opening My First Museum
I then hit upon the idea of starting a museum as I had found so many things and did not have anywhere to keep them all. I had many guns such as AK47s, Kalasnikovs, M16s, M60s, small pistols, machine guns and large rifles. I had rocket launchers, mortars, grenades, gas masks, CS gas canisters, bombs and even uniforms. On one occasion, I found napalm but it was too heavy for me to carry alone so I had to leave it. I sometimes had to pay people to help me transport the finds home as there were a lot or they were just too heavy. I also have many antitank mines, anti-personnel mines and smaller mines. I must add that all of the mines and bombs that I found have been made safe by me so no longer pose any threat to anyone.
My museum took a long time to make because I had to build a place to exhibit everything and this required money. I slowly saved up enough money from a job as a tour guide and I gradually created the museum and finally opened it to the public in 1999.
I also have some paintings which I painted to depict scenes of the various wars. Obviously I had no photographs to show visitors and this was my way of explaining the many situations that I have found myself. A part of many of the stories of my life can be seen depicted in the paintings at the museum.
For a few years after, I regularly went into the rural areas in the Siem Reap province to find and defuse landmines. I rely heavily on donations because I do not work for any organizations and sometimes I have to pay local people to help me with my work. I am always looking for volunteers to assist me and many foreigners came along on trips with me to both help and also to understand the full extent of the horror of the landmines that we still have in Cambodia.
Many people visiting Cambodia are interested in the effects the problems of our recent history has had on the people and ask how the Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot was allowed to do the things he did. I can only say that, from my personal point of view, I understand that many people still feel distress for the loss of their families and because of all the hardships the regime created, but I feel that Cambodia should concentrate on moving forward and rebuilding a new way of life. There is no point dwelling on the past because it is sadly irreversible.
We live daily with the legacy of the landmine and also unexploded bombs. I hope that my museum will help to explain to people that, for us, the horror is not yet over. We still need help in dealing with this massive problem and I feel that the world is not fully aware of the scale of the situation. We have 27,000 victims of landmines in the Siem Reap province alone and that figure rises daily.
Information regarding the number of mines in this country and other parts of the world is only an estimation as there are many unrecorded minefields. It may take up to fifty to one hundred years to find and clear every mine. You can help us by informing people in your country about the problems we face in Cambodia and hopefully, we will eventually get enough support to assist us to speed up making this country safe for its people.
My Life Now
After so many years of bad times, my life is now good. I am now married. My wife,s name is Hourt. Hourt helps me at the museum in many ways. We now have a son whose name is Amatak, a Khmer name which means "Forever" in English. We also have ten young landmine victims who live with us. They are orphans like me or have parents who have asked me to look after them. We take care of these children who lost their arms and legs and help them to live by themselves when they grow up. We also help children around the area and send them to school.
Even after the birth of my son in 2003, landmines and unexploded ordnance continue to cause many injuries and deaths for people in Cambodia, even in relatively safe Siem Reap which has so many foreigners visit each year. On a recent day, a man rushed into the museum to tell me that he just saw five boys playing with an artillery shell only 500 meters from the museum. I quickly left a group of tourists behind and raced to the field where five boys indeed had a large artillery shell that they were passing around. I ordered them to freeze, gently took the shell from them, dismantled it and found that it was still active. I removed the detonator. This most recent artillery shell is now on display in the museum.
We must all do what we can to educate our children and make Cambodia a safe country again so that Amatak and all children can really live forever.
Once again, I say thank you to Richard Fitoussi for the big help he gives me to achieve my dreams.
"I WANT TO MAKE MY COUNTRY SAFE FOR MY PEOPLE."
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