Having lost a leg in a landmine accident when she was 19, Kheun Sokhon now works for MAG Cambodia as a deminer. "I have more reason to want to live," she says.
Sokhon takes her prosthetic leg off during a rest break. Amputee deminers' prostheses have been specially developed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, as they have to be built without any metal parts due to the deminers using metal detectors to find the mines.
After finding a Chinese-made Type-72 anti-personnel landmine, Sokhon calls over her supervisor. "I was really scared when I found my first mine," she said, "but now it just feels good to get them out of the ground."
Twenty-seven year-old Kheun Sokhon works for MAG Cambodia as a deminer.
"I grew up in the war. There was often fighting in and around my village. I spent a lot of time hiding with my mother and my brothers and my sister under our chicken shed.
"Our mother told us to be quiet. The bombs would land very near my house. It was very frightening.
"Our village was close to a big Khmer Rouge area and near to the railway line, which is why there was so much fighting.
"Some people went into the forest to join the Khmer Rouge because they were unhappy with the government.
"My father was a teacher and was very scared. The Khmer Rouge killed teachers because they are intelligent. He threw all his pens away.
"One time, when I was near the river to fetch water, I found three dead Khmer Rouge soldiers. I knew them. They were boys from my village and had been killed in the fighting that night. It was shocking to see.
"When there was no fighting going on, I would collect firewood and work in the rice fields. My family didn’t have money for me to go to school, I always worked.
"When I was 19, I moved to Au Cam Chrom village near the Thai border. After a while I got work across the border in an orchard.
"I came home after the first day with 80 Baht [about £1.20 at that time]. We were so happy!
"The next day…I went to collect some water pipes when it happened. There was a huge explosion. The next second I was sitting down covered in smoke. I noticed one of my legs had gone. The other one was bleeding everywhere. I couldn’t feel anything, but I screamed.
MAG Cambodia and amputees
• Amputees often find it hard to find work or support themselves after their accident. It is MAG policy to actively recruit staff from sections of society who have the fewest employment opportunities, and amputees make up eight per cent of MAG Cambodia’s staff.
• In order that amputees can be employed as deminers, MAG facilitates the provision of metal-free prostheses which do not interfere with the use of metal detectors.
"When I came home I had only one leg and no money. I was very miserable. To be honest, all I wanted to do was to die.
"[Some months later] I heard MAG was looking for staff and was surprised that they hired amputees. The job is well paid so I applied. I passed the training and began work in my village.
"An amazing thing happened. One of the areas we cleared was where I used to go to collect water with my daughter every day. We found mines everywhere. That was scary. My daughter could so easily have stood on a mine.
"Now I have this job I have more reason to want to live and support my daughter Sreymao. It really was too much before. Now things are very much better.
"I still get a bit scared. But I am well trained and I am also proud. Each mine I clear could be a life saved. I don’t want people to go through what I have been through."
5 January 2009
MAG's work in Cambodia is currently funded by: Australian Government; Cambodia Minesremove Campaign(CMC); Care International; Church World Service; DFID (UK Department for International Development); Isle of Man Government Overseas Development Assistance (ODA)/Manx Landmine Action; Imperial Tobacco; Japanese Government, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Jersey Overseas Aid Commission; Kyoto East Lions Club; Landmine Come To Zero Miyaki; Landmine Survivors Network; Lutheran World Federation; MAG America; Rufford Maurice Laing Foundation; Night Vision Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD), U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command; Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Terra Renaissance; World Vision Cambodia.