Aki Ra’s Boys follows children injured by remnants of the war, as they live with a former Khmer Rouge soldier who disposes of the bombs he once planted
By Dianne Janes
Boreak, a 12-year-old land-mine victim and the star of the documentary Aki Ra’s Boys; (right) the film’s promotional poster. Photo Supplied
They kept cutting it [amputated arm] shorter and shorter. now it's just a pain...
Help wash away the threat of land mines
THE New York International Gift Fair, a premier gift, home and lifestyle marketplace, in August incorporated efforts by the A+ Young Designers Platform. As part of the Accent On Design part of the fair, six emerging designers were spotlighted in a special exhibit chosen from among 200 applicants. One of designers spotlighted was Hideaki Matsui of Social Entrepreneurship
Network, Inc, an award-winning New York- and Tokyo-based designer. He created a new product called Cleanup Soap, formed as a replica of a land mine. Sales raise funds for land mine removal and survivor assistance through the Cambodia Landmine Museum. Matsui developed the idea around the idea of the rosemary- or lavender-scented soap disappearing. Go to cleanupsoap.com to find out more. RELAXNEWS
THE young boy points to a large metal object.
"This one is Bouncing Betty," he says.
The next one is tall, with ridges all around.
"This is a pineapple mine."
He could be talking about his favourite lollies, or rides at a fun fair - but he's not.
At just 12 years of age, Boreak has an encyclopaedic knowledge of land mines, and he's giving us a tour of the exhibits at the Cambodian Land-Mine Museum where he lives.
It's a scene from Aki Ra's Boys, an observational documentary made in 2007 by Singaporean filmmaking team James Leong and Lynn Lee of Lianain Films.
The film centres on the young Boreak, an impish boy from a large family in a poor, heavily mined village 100 kilometres from Siem Reap.
Boreak was 6 when he lost his arm in a land-mine explosion that also killed his grandfather.
He endured painful amputation surgery and a recovery without painkillers; an agonising memory that he clearly remembers all too well.
"They kept cutting it shorter and shorter," he says ruefully, rubbing the pointy, sore end of his stump.
Now, though, "it's just a pain".
Boreak has been offered a chance at a better life by Aki Ra, who houses and educates young mine victims at his land-mine museum just outside Siem Reap.
The dusty, makeshift assembly of old mines doesn't look like much, but it's a big step up from the remote poverty Boreak's family endures in the provinces.
A visit home to his family reveals how differently the child is perceived now that he has regular contact with foreigners and tourists.
"In this family, you have the best luck of all," declares his mother, with no trace of irony.
She constantly encourages him to study hard and make the most of his opportunity.
Other family members now see him as something of a cash cow, asking him to buy them televisions, CD players and mobile phones.
"I'm broken-hearted about it," says Boreak, who just wants to fit in like everyone else.
Boreak is different wherever he goes - at home with his family he is an outsider by virtue of his association with wealthy tourists; in the broader community he is disabled and just another victim.
Only at Aki Ra's is he one of the gang, just like the other kids.
"He doesn't look down on people with disabilities," he says of his benefactor, "He loves us all the same."
The documentary Aki Ra's Boys focuses on Boreak's day-to-day life a little too heavily, though, at the expense of the story that puts his experience into context: his relationship with Aki Ra.
Another documentary is being made about Aki Ra that could potentially delve further into his life and the various aspects of his work.
As a young man, Aki Ra served the Khmer Rouge as a soldier, becoming an expert at laying land mines all around western Cambodia.
As an adult, he has assumed responsibility for helping to rid his country of these evil devices, working every day with simple equipment to dig up and defuse old bombs and unexploded ordnance.
In Aki Ra's Boys, his method puts the audience on edge, grimacing as he drags heavy anti-tank mines out of the dirt with his hands and slowly, painstakingly, disassembles them.
It seems a miracle he has never been injured in an explosion, despite having removed more than a staggering 30,000 explosive devices.
It is a testament to his skill, dedication and in-depth knowledge of the composition of the mines that he has been able to work this way for so long.
Since the documentary was made, Aki Ra has received funding and training from the UK and, mercifully. has adopted conventional demining safety measures.
Aki Ra's Boys was shown at Meta House recently.