There’s one woman who fits the bill “Heroes of the NGOs” it has to be 30 year-old Kheun Sokan, who works for the humanitarian Mines Advisory Group* clearing unexploded land mines from Cambodia’s soil.
She is motivated by the fact that she herself had her leg blown off by a land mine.
Kheun Sokan works for MAG as a deminer and is originally from Prolay village in Battambang province. The story is best told in her own narrative:
I grew up in the war. There was often fighting in and around my village. I spent a lot of time hiding with my mother and my brothers and my sister under our chicken shed. It was very smelly there. Our mother told us to be quiet. The bombs would land very near my house and the chickens would poo on us. It was horrible and very scary.
Our village was close to a big Khmer Rouge area and near to the railway line, which is why there was so much fighting. Some people went into the forest to join the Khmer Rouge because they were unhappy with the government. My father was a teacher and was very scared. Khmer Rouge kill teachers because they are intelligent. He threw all his pens away.
“When there was no fighting going on, I would collect firewood and work in the rice fields – my family didn’t have money for me to go to school, so I always worked.
When I was 19 I moved to Au Cam Chrom village near the Thai border. After a while I got work across the border in an orchard. I came home after the first day with 80 baht (US$2). We were so happy! The next day my mother came with me. She pruned fruit trees while I organised pipes to pump water. I went to collect some pipes when it happened. There was a huge explosion. The next second I was sitting down covered in smoke. I noticed one of my legs had gone. The other one was bleeding everywhere. I couldn’t feel anything but I screamed. My mother came. She saw me and then she passed out.
I was taken to a Thai hospital where I spent some time recovering. When I came home I had only one leg and no money. I was very miserable. I couldn’t do anything to help. My wounds were still bleeding. To be honest, all I wanted to do was to die.
Not long before my accident my family had arranged a marriage for me. After being blown up and losing a leg I thought it would be over but my fiancé insisted he would stand by me. After eight months we got married. I got a job working as a cleaner for an NGO called World Vision. I became pregnant. Things were looking better for me. My husband’s family were never happy with me though. They wanted their son to have a strong wife who could work in the rice fields and make money. They pressured him and after a few months he left me.
I heard MAG was looking for staff and was surprised that they hired amputees. The job is well paid so I applied. I passed the training and began work in my village. I have found over 30 mines myself. I still get a bit scared, but I am well trained and I am also proud. Each mine I clear could be a life saved. I don’t want people to go through what I have.
One amazing thing happened. One of the areas we cleared was where I used to go to collect water with my daughter every day. We found mines everywhere. That was scary. My daughter could so easily have … you know, stood on a mine. Now I have this job I have more reason to want to live and support my daughter Sreymao. It really was too much before. Now things are very much better.
I have got engaged again to a deminer from another demining group (Halo Trust). I hope we will get married soon. I hope people reading this will help support the team. Not only are we saving lives but we are poor and the work allows us to live and allows our children to get an education.