On March 20, 2012 , Alexis Nadin and Jacqueline Lee from GlobalGiving joined HALO Trust in Siem Reap, Cambodia for a day in the field - clearing landmines.
Looking at a giant map HALO representative, Stanislav, demonstrated the areas identified as minefields, those cleared by HALO, and those cleared by other organizations. A majority of the colors are focused around the Thailand border, and many of the current minefields yet to be cleared are around villages where families and children are at risk of accidentally coming across not only a landmine but also a tank mine or even a UXO, unexploded ordinance – remnants of past war and conflict.
Stanislav shared the Baseline Survey Project, which is uniting every organization in the area clearing minefields to identify all minefields and has a goal of capturing 95% of the fields needing to be cleared.
Who informs organizations of the fields? Local villagers, former soldiers, and others who have heard stories, witnessed explosions, or themselves have lost legs and family members in unidentified minefields around the towns.
The danger is that as time goes by and the cost of living increases, villagers need to expand their fields for crops generating income. Additionally, as families grow and Cambodians repatriate to the country they need land to build homes, schools, and hospitals. As expansion and development increases in Cambodia, so does the risk of expanding into a forgotten minefield… that is until it is no longer forgotten and creating tragedy in the present.
What is stopping organizations like HALO from clearing every minefield? Stanislav explained to me that limited funding and capacity limits the number of minefields they can clear each year, therefore they have to focus on priority areas. Priority areas are high risk pieces of land next to villages with families and children as well as areas planned for development. Additionally, they target where the most accidents are happening – basically where there will be most impact.
These minefields are stopping progress of development and income generating activities for these families. In the field, I witnessed first hand the impact of the minefields. Crop fields and villages stop abruptly and as far as you can see are patches of dense untouched forest – these untouched areas are where accidents have and are occurring.
After an in depth and strict security and safety briefing by HALO, Alexis and I put on our safety gear which consisted of a helmet with plastic head and neck guard and a heavy, thick Kevlar vest protecting all vitals from an accidental detonation. We were showed a head guard and vest that had been exposed to a detonation, and although it was ripped-apart and dented on the outside, the inside was untouched like new. I felt confident in the safety of my vitals.
Going into the field was scary and exciting all at the same time. Beyond the safety zone were red sticks everywhere. These indicate un-cleared minefields – do not cross zones. As we went through the field accompanying the staff on their routine day, de-miners were working carefully and focused on discovered mines, potential mines not yet exposed, and scanning grids with high-tech metal detectors.
The de-miners had just discovered a few mines and carefully exposed the sides in order to verify and destroy them. Alexis and I were asked if we would like to destroy one of the mines – so we had the opportunity of a lifetime to press the button that would prevent a future tragedy. It was an intense 30 seconds waiting for the explosion… then BOOM, a loud jolt went off that shook even my camera while I was filming. This was a small mine – I could not imagine how it must be if accidentally detonating or even standing next to it when it accidentally goes off or even when coming across a larger tank mine.
An important lesson of the day was stated by Stanislav from HALO Trust, “Mines don’t discriminate. We don’t discriminate.” HALO is empowering communities by providing jobs and opportunity for local Cambodians. HALO hires locally to be a part of clearing local land, managing the projects, and supporting the local villages.
When clearing minefields, each landmine is a potential accident or death waiting to be exposed regardless of who or what comes across it. The sticks in the ground determining cleared mines were what I call “life sticks”, signifiers of what could have been tombstones but are now representing the lives that have been spared.
Happy 2012, to our GlobalGiving friends!
A big thank you to all who donated over the holiday season, we received 36 new donations in December and January, for which we are very grateful.
It’s been almost one year since we began our project on GlobalGiving, to help clear landmines in Banteay Ti Muoy, a village in northwest Cambodia where minefields severely affect people's safety and ability to farm. I’d like to give you an update on how we are doing.
This map shows where HALO has cleared minefields in the village (in dark blue), along with those currently being cleared (in bright blue), and the remaining mined areas (in pink). Up until the end of last year, HALO had destroyed over 2,000 landmines and other explosive items from the village, returning 201 acres of land. But this map graphically illustrates the extent of the remaining mines problem still facing local residents.
90% of the land owned by Mr. Tork Tout (shown) is blocked by the presence of mines, leaving him to harvest only 1.5 tons of rice a year. But through supporters like you, his life is changing. Once clearance of his land is complete, Tout plans to boost his harvest by 200%, generating a further 3 tons of rice annually and multiplying his income by an equivalent factor. This increase in earnings will greatly improve his ability to support his family and keep his three children in school. The family is excited about their future and is presently building a new house next to their land in anticipation.
Banteay Ti Muoy is blessed with particularly fertile soil and a ready supply of water. If we can clear the mines, we can save lives and put family farms back in business. Can you help us spread the word?
You can always reach out to us with any questions or to find out how to get more involved - firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week the mine action community has its eyes on Cambodia, where the Eleventh Meeting of the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (11MSP) is being held in Phnom Penh. It is a formal meeting of the 158 States that have accepted the 1997 convention prohibiting the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines.
It is a time to reflect on how far the country has come to rid itself of landmines, as well as the work that still needs to be done. We hope that this meeting will inspire further action and that donors join HALO in our commitment to not stopping until the job is done.
Since 1991, HALO has worked tirelessly throughout northwest Cambodia, primarily in the provinces of Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Pailin, Preah Vihear, Siem Reap and Otdar Meanchey. HALO has made tremendous progress in Cambodia; a concerted and focused clearance effort has now eliminated much of the problem such that the remaining contaminated area is largely limited to the Cambodian-Thailand border region and ground surrounding former Vietnamese bases in the northwest. The progress made is best evidenced by the fall in casualty numbers, from an average of around 800 per year through the early part of this decade to 286 people in 2010. And while it is a great achievement, this is still significant war-time carnage in a country at peace, reminding us of the work that still remains to be done.
Thank you for supporting this project and helping us work towards a mine-free Cambodia, which we know can be achieved.
Mineclearance not only saves lives and returns land to productive use, it also creates jobs. Across the ten countries where HALO currently works, we employ over 8,000 local men and women—from deminers to senior management, mechanics, medics and finance and mapping specialists. The income that local staff earn enables them to send a child to school, start a small business or purchase livestock, thus building a more secure future once their country is free from the impact of mines.
In Cambodia, HALO employs 1,100 local staff. Below is an interview with Ms. Kann Sophorn (age 24), who is a Section Commander (manager) in Malai District.
Ms. Kann Sophorn
Family: Her mother, father and five brothers and sisters; she is the first sister in the family. She supports the family of seven with her HALO salary.
Education: Grade 4
Jobs before HALO: She was a farmer (rice farming) and casual worker in the village.
Why did her family move to the area? They moved to because of the lack of agriculture land in their previous village.
How does she feel about her work? “Before I started working, I was scared of mine accidents but after starting work it is normal because The HALO Trust has right procedures. Now I’m not scared any more. I am happy and proud of my work, because I can earn money to support my whole family and I can help the villagers in my village and others from mine accidents. I can help my country.”
What activities does she enjoy? Reading books and listening to music.
Final thoughts: “I am very happy to work with HALO and very thankful to the donors, especially people in United States which give money to HALO for supporting mineclearance in my village and in Cambodia. I would like you continue donating to support mineclearance.”
Thank you for supporting mineclearance and through it a local family.
Amy Currin, HALO USA Program Officer
P.S. We need your help to make sure we reach our project goal. Do you have any friends or family that would be interested in this project that you could share it with? Or do you have any ideas on how we can spread the word? If so, we would love to hear from you! You can reach me on email@example.com or +1.415.986.4852
Sua s'dei, from Cambodia! I am currently visiting the program and this past Sunday traveled to Banteay Ti Mouy village where, with the help of your generous support, HALO is finding and destroying landmines.
The area was the base of Vietnamese troops occupying the country in the 1980s, and then saw heaving fighting between the Khmer Rouge and the government of Cambodia in the mid-1990s. All sides laid landmines. Today as the population of the village continues to grow and land become scarcer, families must now enter the minefields in order to cultivate. By request of the local authorities and the village chief, HALO is currently working on five minefields in the village and this year alone has destroyed 128 mines and 17 items of unexploded ordnance, clearing 100,392 square meters (24.8 acres) for safe housing and agriculture.
Ms. Proek Cheat’s family (pictured) is one of the landowner’s that is benefiting from the mineclearance. They moved to Banteay Ti Mouy in 2001 because in their previous village they had no land for farming. Their plot is 32,000 square meters (7.9 acres) and once HALO has finished clearance they plan to grow rice, earning approximately $500 for their harvest. The family will add this income to the $1,200 that the father is able to earn as a laborer in nearby Thailand.
Thank you for helping HALO become a permanent member of GlobalGiving.org and, most importantly, for helping us turn minefields into farmland.
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