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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Amputees set sail

Amputees set sail

V ETERAN aid worker Ron Podlaski's new project - Mekong River Tours - is something out of the ordinary.

Podlaski's idea is to staff a pleasure cruiser with amputees - to prove they can become integrated into society.

Tit Sari, who lost both legs in a mine blast, is currently receiving the training necessary to qualify as the boat's captain.

He says: "After spending years in rehabilitation my wife and children are delighted to have a bread winner in the family again, they now have hope of a more secure future."

The boat's host and hostess are both amputees: Hy and Chea Sopheap.

So Thun, a 15-year-old orphan, is in charge of engine maintenance and also the ship's cabin boy, and the boat's female cook Meas Sarim is raising a family on her own.

Half the eight crew have limbs missing, but this is no handicap to the smooth running of the boat, according to one passenger who said: "I did not notice any of the crew were amputees until it was pointed to me."

Podlaski, the founder of the Indochina Project, says, "After spending years involved in fitting prosthetics I felt it was time to move to the next stage and help the amputees become self-sufficient.

"There is a great need to help with employment here, especially for those that are handicapped.

"In Cambodia growth is in service industries. So I decided we should prove that we can provide as good a service as anyone else can.

"I think our project will capture peoples' imagination and attract them to meet the Cambodian people and share their hospitality."

Podlaski says the 23-meter boat can comfortably fit 40 people, and he is happy to tailor a trip to the needs of his customers (Tel/Fax: 64314).

He says to hire the boat for a half day [5 hours] would cost $200, or $300 for a full day [10 hours], which includes meals.

Podlaski has invested $15,000 in the project and he is working out the details of what he hopes to be a profit sharing operation with the crew members.

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