Ductchman Ruben Tienhooven and his American girlfriend Sharna Peterson – guests at APOPO Visitor Center in Siem Reap, founded in 2017 to raise awareness of mines and unexploded ordnances in Cambodia and around the world – have always been curious about Cambodia’s turbulent recent history of war and strife.
“I’ve always wondered why millions of Cambodians were killed. I never realised that it costs only around $60 to $75 to make a landmine – that’s very cheap, no wonder so many were produced and still litter the country today,” says 28-year-old Tienhooven.
Meas Sambath, who is one of three guides at the APOPO centre and showing Tienhooven and Peterson around that day, says he does not like to focus too much on Cambodia’s tragic recent history, but instead look to positives in the present and future – including the rats.
“I told them little about our history and victims. But I try to focus on the rats – tell them where they come from and how they find TNT objects underground,” says Sambath.
Sambath begins with APOPO’s background and the reasons why mines and unexploded ordnances impact the world.
“After that, we talk little about Cambodia’s history to let them know what happened in our country and reason behind our presence here today. We also add a bit about the rats and the process on the mine field,” says Sambath, who helped establish the centre and has been a guide there for two years.
After the talk, it’s time for the main event – watching the giant African rats, which hail from Tanzania, sniff TNT objects in a specially arranged area in the centre. The rat sniffs along a designated line, becoming visibly excited when it detects something and its rewarded with a banana.
For those visitors who want to support APOPO’s invaluable work in Cambodia, they can purchase an array of unusual mine related souvenirs in the visitor gift shop at the end of their tour.
“There are three ways in which you can help support us – you can buy souvenirs in the shop, you can help raise a rat by donating $60 to adopt a rodent, or you can donate to us online. For those who adopt a rat, you will receive updates on the rats activities and the mission they are working on,” says Benjamin Carrichon, the APOPO Visitor Center director.
APOPO Visitor Center is open from Monday to Saturday between 8.30am and 5:30pm. For more information, you can contact the centre via e-mail ([email protected]), telephone (081 59 92 37) or Facebook (@APOPOvisitorcenter).