Transforming the 'Devil's Gardens'

When the fighting finally ended in the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Samlout district in 1998, thousands of people who'd been forced away by the conflict headed home.

Beneficiaries of landmine clearance by MAG in Sam Loth, Cambodia.

"When we tried to clear the land we found many mines. We found so many, so we couldn’t grow any crops. We were poor and so scared for the children that they couldn’t remain here." – Pov Heang (centre).

Credit: Sean Sutton / MAG

Though happy to leave the camps for internally displaced people, they returned to find an astonishing level of landmine contamination. Families tried to demine patches of land on the side of the road to build shelters and there were scores of accidents.

The district – in Battambang province in north-western Cambodia – became known as the "Devil’s Gardens".

Since then, MAG has cleared many areas of Samlout. Many communities are now thriving. One such village is Phlou Meas, which was cleared of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) by MAG in 2011.

Previously, people here had been living on tiny patches of land, unable to grow food, stuck in poverty with little hope for the future. The transformation today is stunning. Villagers are prospering and the community is buzzing with activity.

Fields full of ripened corn are being harvested alongside banana plantations and fields of sugar cane. It is a truly humbling sight.

"When we came here we were at great risk," says Pov Heang, who lives in the village. "When we tried to clear the land we found many mines, so we couldn’t grow any crops. We were poor and so scared for the children that they couldn’t remain here. They had to stay away with my mother-in-law.

"My husband and I would work as labourers some seasons and make 15,000 riel ($5) a day, which was not enough. After MAG cleared the mines, World Vision [a development organistaion] came. They helped in many ways, with seeds, agriculture training and water catchment pipes and tanks.”

The family now grow coconuts, mango, beans and corn.

"We still do labour work when we are not working on our own farm, but things are very different," she says. "Five children go to school, one is still too young and we can rent a tractor and plough. We have good food, our children are healthy – not sick all the time like before. Soon we will be able to build a new house."

MAG teams spent three months in Phlou Meas, finding 30 landmines and 10 items of UXO, in a project funded by the UK Department for International Development.

Alleviating rural poverty in Cambodia

A video commissioned by international humanitarian aid organisation CARE - Cambodia, to show the great work they are doing in Pailin, in partnership with MAG.


29 December 2012