Cambodia – Sa Ngem


Cambodia – Keo Sa Ngem

A mother of four recounts how she lost part of her leg when she stepped on a landmine.

“My name is Keo Sa Ngem, I am 43 years old and live in Prey Ttoteng village. I am the mother of four children, two boys and two girls. My eldest is 26 years old and the youngest is 3 years old. I only have one child who goes to school at this time, but her education was very disrupted the last two years due to Covid-19. In fact, Covid has been hard on the whole family. I have been struggling to find decent work because of this pandemic. I am unable to do my own farming because I don’t have land, but it is also difficult for me because of my disability. I try and move around nearby homes asking for day labor. Often, I find jobs like de-husking and shelling maize or chopping and drying cassava for a small amount of money. I make an average of 15000 riels (US$3.75) a day. It is just enough to buy food to feed my family that day.

We grew up during the war and many landmines were laid during the Khmer Rouge period. The war only ended when I was about 20. But no one came to remove the landmines from the ground and those explosives remain a threat to very many people, including me and my family. I will never forget the day I stepped on a landmine. It had rained very hard, night and day for two days causing the land to become extremely muddy. On the third day, it slowed down to a drizzle, so I went out to clean the pots and pans and prepared to go cook rice for the soldiers at the pagoda which was a regular income for me. Little did I know that lurking near the fire where I cooked, was a landmine.

When I stepped on the landmine, it blasted loudly, and threw me. It injured both of my legs and I lost consciousness from the pain and shock. The soldiers I was cooking for took me to the hospital, they saved my life. First, they had to carry me on foot to a village called “Koh Kralor”. After that they transported me in the back of a lorry to the hospital in Battambang. It took us two days to reach the hospital traveling all night as well. I stayed at the hospital for a very long time, fighting for my life. My physical recovery took one year. My injuries were severe, and they couldn’t save my left leg, I was amputated on my thigh. I never imagined I would become a disabled woman. Life after that was really hard for me. My husband took a second wife and moved out to go live with her. I had a small child and no way to feed them. I went into survival mode and ended up a beggar on the streets in Thailand. Anything to make ends meet.

Eventually we found our way back home and I began to work in the fields. My family received kind help from neighbors in the village and NGOs, they gave us food. I found additional work selling cooked maize and selling other food to travelers on the train. The war had ended, and many soldiers would use the train to go home and travel through Battambang province. This is where I encountered a second landmine that was laid to target these soldiers.

The landmine exploded as the train rode over it at the front, making the train tilt, derail, and separate. The soldiers in my cabin were able to jump off when they realized what was happening and were unharmed beyond a few scrapes and bruises. I on the other hand was unable to escape because of my disability, so I just stayed on the train and was taken by the cabin. I had to wait for my father to come fetch me home. I was so lucky that the explosion didn’t kill me, it was a very scary experience.

The life of people who lose a leg like me. is very difficult, most people here in Cambodia depend on farming to survive and it makes it very hard to work the land. Life as a disabled woman has been very stressful and at times completely overwhelming. It is hard to find work and travelling even short distances is difficult. I can’t provide enough food for my family and rely heavily on family and kind friends, even the children as they get older to make ends meet. Then there’s a mental battle that goes on, the stigma and shame of being disabled and feeling incomplete. But I am grateful to be alive and to see my children grow, there are others that die.

I am very happy that APOPO came to our village to clear the landmines. The first time I heard about the HeroRATs finding landmines I was shocked! How could they do this job? All anyone wants is to be safe and not worry about these hidden dangers. I have survived two landmines! Me and my family are very thankful to APOPO for coming to our village. It is the first step to helping our community live without fear and anxiety. Thanks to APOPO team, I can travel to nearby villages to find work freely and I am safe! My children can play around without me worrying constantly that they might get hurt and my community is now full of serenity. I am glad that no one else will be injured like I was.”

“My name is Keo Sa Ngem, I am 43 years old and live in Prey Ttoteng village. I am the mother of four children, two boys and two girls.

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