Clearing landmines in former war zones and turning them into playgrounds and farming land are probably the noblest of humanitarian efforts.
In this endeavour, the government of Germany has lent its support to the HALO Trust in demining efforts in Cambodia to return the Kingdom to peace, prosperity and safety.
HALO is the world’s oldest and largest humanitarian mine clearance organisation and has been working in Cambodia for over 27 years.
In one example of how demining efforts have made it safe for schoolchildren, members of HALO, which is funded by Germany, went to a village school in Srah Kampaok after a child stumbled upon something resembling a landmine.
Head teacher Keng Sokun said she was warned of the presence of landmines in the open space behind the school.
The teachers knew that there had been mine laying in the area in the late 1980s but no one knew how big the threat was. While all 90 students at the school had been prohibited from playing in the area, there was a worry that younger children would not be able to grasp the dangers presented by landmines.
Sokun told the press recently: “Even though we explained the risks to the children, sometimes it is difficult for the younger ones to understand this and they forget that they must not play there.’’
In 2011, when Sokun was appointed head teacher, a student strayed into the prohibited area and found something that looked like part of an explosive. The student then alerted the teachers and Sokun called HALO.
A specialist HALO team was dispatched to inspect the find and conduct a detailed survey of the area. A team was then deployed to clear the area of possible dangers.
Seven antipersonnel landmines were found behind Sokun’s school. The head teachers said: “I was very surprised that HALO found seven mines right behind the school. That was dangerous for us, especially for our children.’’
The HALO demining team later cleared all landmines from the area and declared the land safe for the school and the community to enjoy. Now, the children can play in the area and Sokun is also able to use the space to grow food to support the teachers working at the school.
Since 2015, German support has empowered HALO to make the land safe for almost 100,000 people in Cambodia. This partnership enables people like Sokun and the schoolchildren to live, learn and cultivate their land safely.
Germany will continue to work with HALO so that by 2025 no parent needs to worry about their children being harmed by mines.
According to the Cambodian Mine Action Authority, there is still 2,000 sq km yet to be cleared of mines and other unexploded ordnance, an area more than five times the size of Phnom Penh.