Gary Christ (background) and Sem Sovantha.
WHEN Sem Sovantha was crippled by a land mine while on patrol with the Cambodian Army in 1990, only the efforts of his fellow soldiers stopped him from shooting himself on the spot.
Now Sem Sovantha, founder and director of the Angkor Association for the Disabled, is ensuring that Cambodia's land mine victims have options beyond a bleak life of forced dependency and begging.
The organisation is raising funds to prepare a farm in Siem Reap that would allow 20 disabled Cambodians to support themselves.
The slogan of the NGO, adapted from Sem Sovantha's personal motto, is: "We don't want to beg. We want to work". But before disabled Cambodians can enter the workforce, they need to be provided training and physical support, he said.
Gary Christ, agriculture adviser to the Angkor Association for the Disabled, told the Post that in Cambodia, "Once you step on a land mine, you're on your own. There are many disabled beggars with no wheelchair, no prosthetics, nothing".
Sem Sovantha told the Post that after seeing "many disabled people living on the streets, I wanted to provide them with jobs, and skills.
When we registered in 2004, we started a music group, which performs at hotels and the temples for donations".
But in 2009, Sem Sovantha wants to decrease reliance on tourism, and make the centre and the 25 families who live there more self-sufficient. "The farm is the best long-term plan," he said.
The association has secured five hectares of land 50 minutes from Siem Reap town, but needs US$5,000 to construct a fence and cover transportation costs. When the farm is established, it will support up to 20 people.
A previous attempt to begin a farm in Battambang province was aborted last year due to its distance from Siem Reap and - ironically - problems with clearing land mines.
"We have to support the disabled, many of whom are homeless," said Sem Sovantha.
"The farm could provide them with jobs, and food," but funding for the project still needs to be secured.
"I believe that Sovantha is a leader, and has a great vision," Christ said.
"He just needs support to keep the wheels turning."