STAFF STORY – LAO LONG HENG
The EOD team answers calls about explosive devices around people’s homes and farms.
“I have worked for APOPO’s partner The Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) since 1998. I am the EOD team leader. EOD stands for Explosive Ordnance Disposal. Our job is to get rid of the unexploded bombs, bullets and landmines that are still scattered around people’s homes, fields and paths after the war finished in 1975.
We cover about 6 villages in the area and are on call 24 hours a day. Farmers who are working in the fields often find explosive devices that have lain there for decades until the farmer digs down or clears some overgrowth. Often we find small piles of explosives where previous farmers have found them in the fields, piled them up under a tree, and then forgotten about them! This is incredibly dangerous so when we visit a village we also organise mine risk education (MRE) sessions where we explain what the most common explosive devices look like, and what do to when they are found – DON’T TOUCH THEM!
The problem is that many devices look like old bits of scrap metal and the farmers pick them up and move them. Or they are small and interesting like bullets or cluster bombs (about the size of a tennis ball), which feel nice in the hand so children play with them or put them in their pockets. Then one day – boom! It’s tragic to see the result. I have three kids and to think of them being hurt like this is too much to bear.
We even found a cluster bomb sticking out of someone’s interior kitchen wall once. They had got the sand and stones from the river and not realized they had picked up a bomb.
The devices will sit there until they are found – they are already 40 years old. Perhaps one day a farmer will hit it with his spade, or maybe a cow will walk on it, or a tractor will plough over it, or someone collecting firewood in a forest will disturb it. It’s the same result. They explode and kill or maim someone. This is very serious for the family because it requires someone to care for them, or perhaps work in their place. Children are often taken from school, or the family gets into debt. It’s not just the injury they have to deal with.
Every week we get about 8 to 15 calls, sometimes many in the same day. We rush around because you have to get their fast before someone tries to move it. I think I must have destroyed over 20,000 items in my career. My family is scared for me, but I am well trained and very careful. In the end, we are proud to be helping the communities in this way. That’s 20,000 injuries I may have stopped.”