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Cambodian Self Help Demining Group - Local Relationships for Positive Change

October 2016

George Kennedy

Born from a regrettable need, the Cambodian Self Help Demining Group is a grassroots organisation based in Siem Reap that aims to safely and responsibly remove land mines from poor and remote villages. Founded in 2006 by Aki Ra, a former child soldier of the Cambodian war, the organisation has since cleared land surrounding over 100 villages.Whilst significant  international efforts have been made to remove the estimated 4-6 million land mines placed during the Cambodian conflict, this grassroots organisation proudly focuses upon the ‘low priority areas that are neglected by foreign efforts’. In these regions, populated by some of Cambodia’s poorest residents, the Cambodian Self Help Demining group works closely with the community to identify priority areas for clearing and to ensure that the delicate process is performed safely.

 

Aki Ra, the organisations founder, has experienced the tragic reality of the Cambodian civil war first hand. At a young age, he became an orphan after the Khmer Rouge killed both his parents in an attack on their village. He was then conscripted to the same group that undertook this deadly attack, laying thousands of land mines as a child soldier throughout the eight year war. After the conflict ended, he began using his skills and experience to remove the mines he had once laid. From 1992 until 2005, he used a knife, hoe and stick to locate mines and safely disarm them, clearing an estimated 50,000 mines single-handedly. In 2006 he was sponsored to formally study mine clearance in Britain, returning shortly after to begin the Cambodian Self Help Demining Group.

The Cambodian Self Help Demining Group now employs 26 local Cambodians, all having undergone specific training in demining techniques. However, removing land mines is a painstaking process that requires a huge amount of time and resources. As such, the organisation meets with community members prior to land mine removal in order to identify the most important areas in need of clearing, thus optimising the use of their resources. In consultation with local communities, they focus upon land surrounding schools, agricultural fields, homes and religious sites where locals often congregate. Aside from their work clearing land mines, the Cambodian Self Help Demining Group also undertakes education programs in local communities. They say that this forms an integral part of their operation, preventing the maiming and deaths of farmers, foragers and curious children. By working closely with local police, village leaders and the community themselves, the group aims to raise awareness of the ever-present dangers of unexploded land mines.

 

Through continued community engagement, the Cambodian Self Help Demining Group hopes to fill the gap in land mine clearing efforts found in remote and hard to reach regions. Whilst they specifically recognise that international efforts have been of paramount importance in clearing the major metropolitan regions, the role of the their organisation is to instead support vulnerable, remote communities that may have otherwise been overlooked. The Cambodian Self Help Demining Group thus fills an important gap in the broader Cambodian demining project, accountable primarily to vulnerable and remote communities. This highlights the powerful role of Cambodians supporting Cambodians, using local knowledge and relationships to ensure that the entire population may live without fear of land mines.

About the Author

George is the founder of Grassroots Collective and has worked with local development organisations all over the world, from Cambodia to Patagonia. He is currently riding his motorcycle through South America, visiting local community nonprofits to support their work, share their stories and help foster sustainable and responsible development practice.

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