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March 19, 2005

A Visit to the Landmine Museum

Today I visited the Landmine Museum in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and had an amazing experience. This museum documents the issues surrounding residual landmines throughout the world, gives history on the reasons for their existence within Cambodia, and explains what is going on today to try to reverse this situation. However, the most impact comes from the personal stories of the affected children, and their stories of survival which I have to admire for the amount of hope and determination each one continues to hold.

I learned that landmines are a huge problem for many countries throughout the world as, even after peace has come to warring nations, they continue to affect the civilians in those nations as they are difficult to eradicate. Cambodia is one of the most affected areas in the world by landmines, as Cambodia suffered through the Vietnam War and the struggle of the Cambodian people against the oppressive military government of the Khmer Rouge, both where many landmines were set. Peace has now come to Cambodia, and although landmine-removal action has been going on for some years now, Cambodia is still covered with them. Approximately one half of all villages in Cambodia are known or suspected to be mine/UXO (unexploded ordinance) contaminated. That puts around five million Cambodians at risk. Internationally, there are on average 20,000 casualties a year attributed to landmines, which boils down to 40 casualties a day, or two deaths every hour. In Cambodia alone, this statistic is three deaths every day. Additionally, the majority of the victims of landmines are not casualties; 80 percent of all victims are maimed by shrapnel and have limbs amputated. And 98 percent of all victims- deaths or otherwise- are simply civilians; people not associated with war or with the removal of landmines or anything- simply civilians walking through the jungle who didn’t see the trip wire or bomb or whatever on the ground. It is heartbreaking to hear the statistics and the history and realize that it wasn’t enough for these people to suffer through one of the most oppressive and brutal governments of all time, but they are now burdened with the deadly remnants of this period which traumatize them on a daily basis.

If this wasn’t bad enough, hospitals and medical attention in general in Cambodia is scarce, and if one can manage to find a hospital, there is no way most people would be able to pay for medical attention. Many people die from simply bleeding to death due to lack of medical attention, and I read stories of poor treatment leading to infection leading amputation of full limbs which wouldn’t have originally been necessary if proper treatment had been available. Additionally, people often trade dogs or cattle or all there possessions to get basic medicine or a bandage.

Unfortunately, children are more commonly the victims of landmine explosions as they are often unaware of how to spot them in the jungle, and often use landmines, grenades, and other old UXO's as toys. The Landmine Museum is more than a museum- the grounds are home to affected children who had no where else to go, and no hopes of making it on there own as young amputees. The people running and volunteering at this “museum” care for, school, and train the children in a variety of things such as tourism and English, so that they may run the museum one day. Various other children can be seen wandering the premises, as they show up for the free dinners.

Luckily, Cambodia is attempting to help its citizens, as the Royal Cambodian Forces, which is Cambodia’s army, started contributing to the landmine removal efforts in 1998. Other NGO efforts consist of CMAC (Cambodian Mines Action Centre), HALO trust, and MAG (Mines Action Group). MAG most recently employed 100 women to work as deminers, and is paying them a decent “western” wage, which is a huge deal and a great step in both landmine removal and women’s rights. If anyone wants more information on these issues, you can contact the International Campaign to Ban Landmines for more history and statistics, and additionally to urge your country to sign the Mine Ban Treaty (the US hasn’t singed it- hint hint). Additionally, you can obtain more information, and make donations, from the Landmine Museum’s own website: Additionally, this "museum" always welcomes volunteers to teach the children English and to give tours in English. All you have to do is show up. :)

NOTE: I have amazing pictures, which, as they say, are worth more than words, but I will try to post them perhaps in another country as the internet connection here isn't stong enough for that much data. Earlier today the internet wasn't working- in Siem Reap. ALL of Siem Reap. A bit funny how a whole town can loose internet connection at any time. You can't tell, but I'm writing this pretty quickly. :)

Posted by alex91127 on March 19, 2005 01:07 AM
Category: Cambodia

Viewing the effects of war is a sobering experience but it sounds like your visit there was worthwhile. I imagine you will be exercising extreme caution while hiking around the area. Sounds scary.
Love, Mom

Posted by: Mom on March 19, 2005 10:53 AM
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