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Old soldier’s struggle for survival

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Down but not out ... former soldier Mao Sokong contemplates life from his makeshift family house in Meanchey district. Photo by: TOUCH YIN VANNITH

LIFE seems like an endless battle to find enough money to live for 42-year-old former soldier Mao Sokong, whose hands were blown off by a landmine.

As a young man during the civil war, he volunteered as a soldier and after military training, was sent to serve at Phnom Oral in Pursat province near the Thai border.

But one evening he was on patrol with about six of his colleagues when he stepped on a landmine, which blew his hands off, blinded one eye and left him with serious scarring.

His comrades were luckier – they escaped with only minor injuries, but Mao Sokong had to spend more than a year in hospital, recovering from the blast.

“Only my mother was around to take care of me in hospital – we had no money to live on,” recalls Mao Sokong.

After he was discharged from hospital, he and his mother were reduced to begging for a living by the side of the road.

“His condition was dramatically bad at that time,” says his wife Sorn Sok, who took pity on him despite his injuries because she had known him as an ordinary young man before the war.

She decided to marry him, and Mao Sokong managed to keep the family together by living under a house in Boeung Tompun commune in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district. The couple had three children, and to make money, he managed to use his arms to cast nets to catch fish.

“But the number of fish declined and I couldn’t catch any more. Someone even stole my fishing nets, so I had to sell both my boats to pay back the owner of the fishing nets,” Mao Sokong says.

Now, he says, times are tough.  “My wife has to pick up some vegetables along the street to sell at the market, since we don’t have enough money to buy vegetables from others,” he explains.

Some days, his wife Sorn Sok manages to bring home 8,000 riel a day (US$2), although other days the family nets only 4,000 riel after she buys food and pays school fees for their youngest daughter, who is aged 11 and studying at primary school.

However, Mao Sokong prefers to look on the bright side of life, pointing out that he’s eligible for 30 kilogrammes of free rice each month through a foreign NGO.

His military pension of 100,000 riel a month also helps – as do his two older children, who work to help out the family. “Maybe they will have a better life when they get married,” says the old soldier with a smile.

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