Canadian Rotarians honour Aki Ra for peace work

Canadian Rotarians honour Aki Ra for peace work

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Richard Augustine from the Rotary Club of Gravenhurst pins the Paul Harris Fellowship Award on de-miner Aki Ra. Photograph: Alistair Walsh

Land-mine clearing celebrity Aki Ra has been presented with another award, this time by a group of friendly Canadian Rotarians.

The de-miner and founder of the Land Mine Museum near Banteay Srei was awarded the Paul Harris Fellowship award by representatives from the Rotary Club of Gravenhurst in Canada.

President of the Gravenhurst Club, Steve Hayhurst, conferred the award for Aki Ra's work towards peace and conflict resolution.

"The rotary foundation awards the Paul Harris fellowship to people whose actions support Rotary ideals. Aki Ra is such a person," Hayhurst said.

"Conscripted into the Khmer Rouge as a child he was later forced to fight for the Vietnamese. During this time he laid landmines – part of the 6 million distributed in Cambodia over 30 years.

"After the fighting stopped he took landmine clearing training from the UN and started to clear mines often in areas he used to fight. Using just a knife and stick he successfully defused many landmines.

Aki Ra has been a prominent demining activist for many years, and his organisation Cambodian Self Help Demining works with central demining authorities to clear sites in low priority areas.

He works with a team of 30 demining workers to clear a few hectares of land a month with a budget of around $200,000 a year.

Aki Ra runs a home for orphans and victims of landmines behind the landmine museum, and also runs three schools around Siem Reap in recently cleared villages.

The Rotary team was in Cambodia working with Rotary Wheels for Learning organisation, providing bikes for impoverished children to ride to school.

The Paul Harris Fellowship award is the highest which can be conferred by Rotary Clubs.

Aki Ra has been recognised a number of times for his demining efforts. In 2010 he was recognised as one of CNN's top 10 heroes of the world, selected from tens of thousands.

Most recently he was awarded the Manhae peace prize in Korea in August, a prize that comes with a $44,000 cash prize.