Cambodia – Kuy Sreda
Sreda worries for her little sisters as they go to school.
“My name is Sreda and I am 22 years old. I live with my mother and three younger sisters in Wat village in the commune of Sre Noi, Cambodia. When my father passed away it fell on my shoulders to help my mother, I was the eldest and had already finished school. We work our land growing food for our family and to pay for school so my sisters can complete their education as I did.
The area surrounding our village used to be a battle area during the war, so many landmines were planted in the bush as well as in the fields, others were also left along the roads to prevent the enemy accessing the village. My father used to be an army soldier and he knew roughly where the landmines where hidden. After the war ended, he tried to save people by warning them that in certain areas it was not safe to plant their crops. But they didn’t listen, on the other hand they didn’t really have a choice as they needed to grow food for their families. They farmed the land anyway, putting their lives at risk.
When I was a child, we used to find landmines on our land especially when the tractor ploughed the field. One year after the floods I found a bomb partially exposed near the path we take every single day. I worry for my two younger sisters going to school. How can we keep them safe when we don’t know where the landmines hide? To live knowing that you are surrounded by landmines is very scary and it also makes everything very difficult, you need to be always very careful. It can be treacherous walking to reach your field or to go to school, especially if you walk on a path that crosses through overgrown bush. It is even worse for the older generation, like my grandmother. After the war they had to ‘open’ new roads to go to school or to the market, they had to walk in single file lines, and there was no certainty about where a landmine could be lurking in wait for them.
My mother told me about an old man, who was a family friend of hers, who accidentally stepped on a landmine along the path. He was ‘thrown high’ and landed a few meters further. He died from the blast. She also has another friend who stepped on a landmine while working on his rice field and lost his leg but survived.
The life of people who lose a limb is very difficult, most people here in Cambodia depend on agriculture to survive and it makes it very hard to farm the land. They can’t provide enough food for their family and rely heavily on spouses or even children sometimes to make ends meet. Then there’s the stigma and shame of being disabled and feeling incomplete. Some people fall into deep depression and lose faith, turning to the bottle. It just makes it worse for their families.
I am very relieved that APOPO is here now. The first time I heard about the rats clearing landmines was on the radio. I found the idea of rats finding landmines very strange, we discussed it pretty often in our family trying to understand how it worked and why rats are used for this. Then we found out that rats were working on the other side of our village! Amazing! I hope to see them one day. All we want is to be safe and not worry about these hidden dangers. Our whole village is very thankful to APOPO for their crucial job. After they finish removing all the explosives from our land we will no longer live in fear and daily anxiety. We will be free to start a new life, no longer afraid of some bad accident when we work in the fields or when my sisters and their friends play around the houses.”