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None of them had ever been injured by a landmine nor had they knowingly almost stepped on one. They had never had any kind of formal education concerning landmine safety. I actually got the impression they thought this idea a bit odd. It appears that living in constant fear of loosing one's limb or life has been enough to shield these little ones.
The ride into this village had been so horrendously bumpy, the guide decided on a different return route. For the next half-an-hour, we bounced along a somewhat smoother two track dirt road that cut through miles of once prime agriculture land now left fallow.
It is difficult to say whether this huge section of land was abandoned because of landmines or for other reasons, but isn't that part of the landmine's effectiveness. You never know.
In fact, at one point, we did know. We stopped our scooters in front of a house along our route. Save for a small pathway leading up to the house, it was completely surrounded by Landmine Warning Signs. As we learned from Cheam Hart, the 62-year-old woman who lived here, these signs had been erected only within the past month by an NGO, Mine Advisory Group. Apparently, her doctor had accidently set one off awhile back. Hart didn't seem too afraid living in a house surrounded by explosives. She was more concerned about the possibility of loosing the property if she were to move.
According to the rural Cambodians with whom I spoke, land is the only source for food and income available to them. Unfortunately, this simple reality compels families to explore new lands when resources run thin. The outcome is an average of five victims every day.
Assistance provided by programs such as the engine repair trade school is effective for those who have the opportunity to participate, but NGO's are simply overwhelmed by the scope of the problem.
The 1990's saw a dramatic increase in the amount of attention focused on the global landmine issue including NGO's, celebrities, and the UN resulting in an international treaty to ban landmines. Of the 150+ countries that have signed the treaty, Russia, China, and the United States are among those who have not.
The hard reality of third world rural poverty is always extreme, but adding landmines to the equation (disabilities, deaths, unusable land, constant fear)...it is beyond comprehension. This kind of life never fails to remind me how utterly fortunate I am. Yet it is nearly impossible to fully appreciate these people's plight, for at the end of the day, I can leave this place.
They must stay.