A large, brightly-colored machine sporting spiked metal wheels and skull-and-crossbones
stickers sits amid the welders and spare parts of a busy workshop in Phnom Penh's
Prek Leap district.
The Tempest, as it is known, is a newly built vegetation clearance machine awaiting
shipment to the Congo to help in demining efforts.
This is the first shipment to Africa of the Cambodian-made machine. The Development
Technology Workshop (DTW), a UK engineering NGO which designed and produced the Tempest,
hopes more will follow.
"I'm very pleased [about the shipment]," says Harold Pearson, DTW's program
manager, "and I hope this will lead to more machines in Africa."
DTW began life in a garden workshop in the UK, and opened in Cambodia in 1998. Six
of its clearance machines are in the field here, with others in Thailand and Bosnia.
Shipments to Mozambique and Angola are also planned.
Pearson says the team faced skepticism when they proposed moving their operation
"Many people said that such a high tech undertaking in a developing country
like Cambodia would not be possible, but we've shown them that anything can be done,"
"People think that you can't work in a developing country unless you're willing
to sit under a palm tree and construct things with string and bamboo."
The Tempest is a complex piece of engineering. The 2.6-ton remote-controlled machine
is encased in 8 mm thick steel, and can clear 1,000 square meters of vegetation a
day. Its flail pulps vegetation at 1,200rpm and scatters the ultra-fine debris.
The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has five Tempest machines at work in Cambodia. Soth
Diep, MAG's mechanical coordinator, says deminers feel safer and more confident because
the machines cross the mine fields first. MAG has noticed a marked improvement in
demining efficiency since it acquired the machines two years ago.
"We can respond to community needs because the machine can clear the area quickly
which reduces the danger," says Diep.
Assisting mine clearance is not the only reason for DTW's existence - creating sustainable
jobs and helping develop small scale industry in Cambodia are key initiatives.
"The basic idea is that we develop the projects and hand them over to small
businesses,"says Pearson. "DTW fills the role of the research and development
branch you find in most big businesses."
There are 23 staff working and training with DTW. Among them are ten with disabilities.
Choub Bunthoeun, married with three children, lost his arm in a landmine explosion
in Pailin 15 years ago. He worked on his mother's farm in Prey Veng, but couldn't
earn enough."So I needed other work," he said.
DTW took him on three years ago as a sweeper and general maintenance person. He excelled
and now works as a welder, painter and driller on the Tempest project, and is helping
build the fourteenth machine.
Pearson says the first Tempest machine built in 1998 was "totally unreliable",
but the small team quickly ironed out the faults to produce the far more efficient
T2, which is still in use with the Halo Trust in Cambodia.
DTW is looking to expand into new fields. One new product is a Braille typewriter,
and likely future projects involve agricultural and medical equipment.
"We'd like to go on as we are," says Pearson, "and identify more useful
projects we can get involved in."
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