Monday, 18 May 2009

CAMBODIA: Mine accident survivor becomes deminer

Chea Sia, a 48-year-old amputee, has worked for MAG for 14 years as a deminer. He lost his right leg to a landmine explosion in 1982, when he served a soldier for the Khmer People's National Liberation Front, led by the late former Prime Minister Son Sann.

The accident took place in Batttambang province whilst patrolling the area around his camp.

"I stepped on a landmine laid by the Khmer Rouge. We didn't realise [they] had laid mines in the area," he says.

His fellow soldiers fired a few times into the air as a distress signal, and other soldiers came to assist them.

"They arrived and sent me to the camp where I received first aid from the paramedics," he recalls.

After receiving first aid, Chea Sia was put on a tractor and sent to a French hospital in Thailand near the Cambodian border, and was then transferred to a hospital in Khao-I-Dang refugee camp run by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

He stayed at the hospital for about three months and was then sent to a refugee camp in Thailand, where he lived for the next decade.

Along with many other refugees, he was repatriated to Cambodia in 1992.

"During the first four or five months [back] in Cambodia, I didn't do anything but depended on some money I had left from the camp," he says. "When I returned to Cambodia, we had big problems....we needed everything, unlike life in the camp where we were given food."

Chea Sia and his wife struggled to survive and eked out a living by buying and selling small items and farming. Then he heard about MAG.

"Initially, I wasn't aware that MAG recruited amputee deminers. My friend asked me to join. Frankly speaking, at that time I knew nothing about demining. While I was a soldier, I only knew that mines are dangerous. But I was assured that I would be sent to be trained."

Currently, Chea Sia carries out demining tasks in Pailin province, the former stronghold of the Khmer Rouge.

He says that it is difficult for disabled people with little education to find good jobs, and that he is lucky to work for MAG.

"I don't have any knowledge or education, so I depend on my physical strength to get a job. It would be difficult for me to find a better-paid job than the job I have with MAG."

As a deminer, Chea Sia has to wear a special prosthetic leg, which will not affect or disrupt a metal detector.

"Prosthetic limbs usually have a metal bar inside but those provided for amputee deminers contain no metal," he explains.

Chea Sia says that amputee deminers sometimes find it difficult when they have to walk up or downhill to get to a minefield, and said that they may work marginally slower than able-bodied persons.

"But it's not a big deal at all. We can perform our job. We are not asked to work where disabled people find it difficult to perform their tasks."

Chea Sia says that he is very happy to work with MAG, an organisation which has benefited people from the communities affected by landmine contamination.

"It has a lot of benefits. One, we receive salary from MAG to feed ourselves and families and two, we can rid our villages of landmines."

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