CAMBODIA: Clearing Land for Learning
Before MAG cleared dangerous land in Veal, Cambodia, school classes had to be taken outside of villagers' houses.
|Until recently, Veal village school in Pursat province had no proper school building – because nobody dared to build one. There had been accidents involving landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the village, and community members suspected there were more explosive items in the ground.
The school director, Meak Hun, did his job as best he could, but says: “Teaching was extremely difficult. I had to teach students outside villagers’ houses.”
Eleven-year-old Buor Seiha recalls what those lessons were like: “Each time it rained, we almost got soaked. We didn’t have chairs and tables. I had to put my chalkboard on the mat and crouch over it as I wrote.”
One of MAG Cambodia’s all-female teams came to clear the land of dangerous items. It took more than six weeks to complete clearance on enough land needed to build a school. During the process, six items of UXO were found and destroyed.
Once the land was safe, a school was built with the support of two international non-governmental organizations, Sustainable Cambodia and Save the Children Norway.
Today, about 300 students attend classes there, a notable change from the way things were.
“The number of students [before the school was built] was only around 30 to 40, as the learning environment was not good,” says Meak Hun. “Students faced a lot of hardship. Many students went fishing, cutting wood or picking bamboo shoots instead of coming to class.”
The local authorities and parents now cooperate to make sure that all children are sent to school.
Another student, Phan Hoeurm, is happy to have the opportunity to study in a proper classroom. She says, simply: “Now we have a good school.”
The Legacy of War
Nearly three decades of conflict from the late 1960s to ‘80s left Cambodia severely contaminated by landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). This mainly affects the poorest and most isolated agricultural communities. Despite the known and horrific dangers, people here have no option but to continue to live with the threat.
They take risks every day simply to meet their basic needs such as commuting to work or school, farming, accessing water or attending markets.
|MAG thanks the following donor for funding the work mentioned in this article: Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, US Department of State.|