Mine Risk Education group uses music to break down myths that put people – especially boys – at risk across the province.
Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Rappers from Sek Sak village perform at a mine-risk education contest Saturday in Ratanak Mondol district, Battambang province.
I never knew about the bad impacts of using the weapons.
TEN years ago, Nam Vanna, 25, lost his right hand in a land mine explosion. The accident happened while he was trying to kill fish using a mine he found in his native Sek Sak village in Battambang’s Ratanak Mondol district.
He had used the unorthodox fishing technique many times before, “following the example of his father”, he said Saturday from the sidelines of a mine-risk education (MRE) rap contest near his home. For him and many of his friends, land mines were a childhood fixture. “I always went to collect them in the forest, and my friends and I would play with them,” he said. “I never knew about the bad impacts of using the weapons.”
Nam Vanna was one of 45 young villagers from Ratanak Mondol to perform in the contest, organised to educate local boys about the dangers of land mines and unexploded ordnance. For more than an hour, groups from three villages battled over beats by Dr Dre, Flo Rida and 50 Cent – all the while emphasising that playing with land mines does not make you manlier, and that Khmer magic will not protect you from a mine blast.
One of the organisers, Catherine Cecil of the International Women’s Development Agency, said the contest – held at the high school in Pcheav village – was geared towards a particularly vulnerable subgroup: According to data from the Cambodia Mine/UXO Victim Information System (CMVIS), Battambang suffered the most mine casualties of any province in 2008. Thirty-four percent of the victims were boys under 18. CMVIS also reported that 83 percent of the victims had been exposed to some MRE – an indication, Cecil said, that education programmes had not been particularly effective. “We think we need a better approach,” she said.
Several performers agreed and said it was the music, not the message, that had drawn them to Saturday’s event. Sry Dalen, a 15-year-old from Phlov Meas village, said: “I really like hip-hop, so I decided to join this programme. I didn’t really know why they were trying to educate us about the mine issue, but now I know a lot about it.” Even though he had been told before that mines were dangerous, he didn’t take the warnings seriously – until now. “We never listened to them, but now I will stop touching mines,” he said.
One of the songs performed by Sry Dalen’s group poked fun at a teenage boy who boasted: “I am a gangster leader. I am not afraid of mines because my body is tattooed, and I have Khmer magic, so mines will not explode on me.”
All three groups wrote lyrics mocking this particular belief, which several performers said was widely held among youngsters. In a special guest appearance, MC Tola addressed it himself in a song written exclusively for the event.
DJ Sdey, who served as MC and as one of the judges, also touched on the consequences. He rapped: “The second time you tamper, you lose your girl. The third time you tamper, you’ve lost your girl and you’re losing your arm.” Of the three competing villages, Chi San took the top prize: the chance to appear in a new MRE radio ad.
Rappers from Sek Sak performed songs describing the economic factors that prompt villagers to handle mines in the first place. “If we don’t use mines to catch fish, how can we support our daily living?” the group sang before emphasising that mine-related injuries are often lifetime economic liabilities. Yin Rachana, 20, whose father lost a leg in a mine accident when he was a soldier, said: “An arm or leg disability – that can ruin your life.”