Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ho Ho Khmer Style

Well it’s been almost three months since we moved here and it seems like 3 weeks.

Most of the time.
It’s Christmas in Cambodia and it certainly is different. Christmas is not a holiday here, since this is primarily a Buddhist country. Heck most of the time you don’t even know what day it is. I had a meeting with Aki Ra this morning and we were trying to figure out when the next mine field visit would be. I suggested Monday and we both had to stop and figure out when Monday was (today is Thursday – I just looked at my watch).

The ‘official’ work schedule for Jill and I at the Museum is Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Wednesday in town and off on the weekends. We don’t go to the Museum on Wednesdays because that is the day the art teacher comes and there are no English classes.
So far we have been at the Museum every weekend except 1. And that is not a complaint. There is just a lot that needs to be done, and we are happy to pitch in where and when we can. And being around the kids is always an experience.

We are taking off Christmas day, tomorrow. Saturday I’ll be at the Museum by 9am since we have a contractor coming out to quote on finishing the wall around the compound before it falls down.

Monday I am taking our volunteer, Harvendar to the mine field. We finish this field next week and she leaves in 3 weeks. Then Wednesday we are doing the First Annual Landmine Museum Shop Inventory. We hope to have it done by noon.

The kids are just amazing. There is not a day that goes by that they don’t have a smile on their face, and a hug for Jill and I. For all they have been through I would expect some ‘down time’, but we just don’t see it.

One of the kids, Boreak, is an excellent footballer (soccer for you Yanks). I knew he had a tournament coming up soon so I asked him when it was. He told me they couldn’t play since they didn’t have uniforms. They do now. They are sponsored by the LMRF. The money was donated to buy uniforms for all 20 kids. Now they just have to win the school round to go to the ‘big’ city of Siem Reap to play.

One of the girls in the Museum shop is getting married this weekend and she gave Jill and I an invitation to attend. The wedding is Sunday. It starts at 11am. That will be half time in the Emerald Bowl, which is being shown here live. (BC vs USC). No doubt in the world where I will be. I love Khmer weddings…I just have to find my earplugs. The music is Khmer… and loud. And barrangs (foreigners) get the seat of honor…right in front of the speakers. I’ve lost enough of my hearing already…..

Now if any of you don’t know me well, I’ll tell you that I am a HUGE college football fan, and I live and breathe USC. I haven’t seen a game since we left in October and have had the Emerald Bowl on my calendar ever since I found it was live here. But…no way I will miss this wedding.

Someone asked why I don’t Tevo it. I laughed so hard I almost wet myself.

More as Christmas and New year progress.

Happy Holidays from all of us to all of you.

Babu in the Jungle

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Month of Firsts

What a hectic month its been.

I thought when Jill and I moved over here we could develop a routine and things would find some sort of 'normalcy'.

I was wrong.......

We are accomplishing a lot, but my goodness, it certainly is hectic.

We've got a real nice house to rent here in Siem Reap. We have several bedrooms, one of which we use for an office, a living room/dining room and a kitchen. We even have a washing machine. And that, my friends, is a BIG deal. I spent 2 years washing my dirty clothes in a plastic bucket. No more.

Well, to the firsts.

---I visited our newest mine field last week, and got to see my first 'bouncing betty' blown up. A bouncing betty is a landmine that has 2 charges. The first blows it into the air. The second kills you. It's activated when you step on it. Nice to see another one bite the dust

---Jill and I spent our first Thanksgiving outside the US and figured we'd just have another day at work. But our friends Jed and Terry, who own the Warehouse fed 25 of us. And they did it from a restaurant that isn't much begger than the one we had in our first house.

And it was their anniversary.
---Mikki (our mutt from home) saw her first water buffalo and tried to jump out of the car.

---We got our first visitor! Scottie Williams, who we've known for about 15 years (from the Clipper games) got some time off from school and took a 1 week trip to Thailand. Well it was really a 3 day trip to Thailand 'cause he took the bus to Siem Reap with his friend Valerie and they stayed with us for a couple of days.
---Jill trained her first volunteer, Harvindar (from London) at the Museum School and she starts full time on the 7th.

---I got to watch my first half marathon in Cambodia, Today (Dec 6) was pretty interesting. The Angkor Wat Half Marathon, 10k, 5k and Bike Race started this morning at 0620. we made it there at 7am. It looked like thousands running. I've done 11 marathons, 6 half's and a bunch of 10ks. this was a well run as any I've ever seen, and a LOT better than most.

Maybe I should run next year................

This week is kinda up in the air. We have some folks here from the US doing a story on land mines and that will take some of our time.

We may have found our truck! It's a Russian troop carrier and fits our budget. It will allow us to move everyone and all the equipment to the field in one shipment. Right now we need to make multiple trips. At least the mine field we are working right now is near by. The next one is way out in the jungle and we need to have that freakin' truck by the end of the month.


If you haven't finished your Christmas shopping.......

Make donation and we'll send a note to your loved one thanking them for changing a life here in Cambodia.

Babu out
back soon

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cal Worthgington - Khmer Style

I am REALLY dating myself here by even referring to Cal Wortington (C'mon Down!!). Cal was a used car salesman 'par excellence' in Southern California for decades. Anyone over about 30 grew up with him.

And I found his counterpart in Phnom Penh about a block from the US Embassy on 'used car alley'...more like used car park, but whatever.

We've been using Sim Sao as a tuk tuk driver since we got here. But it's getting REAL expensive to use him every day and use fill in drivers when he is off or has found another fare. So we decided to buy a car!

I called my tuk tuk driver in Phnom Penh, Yuji, and had him start looking for a 1996-98 Honda CRV. He found one for $6,700, and that was a phenomenal price.

Used cars over here mostly come from the US and they are horrendously expensive. You buy a used car in America for say $5,000. Then you ship it here for another $4,000. Then you pay 'whomever' to get it out of customs. That's another $2,000. then you have to make a profit. So a 1998 Toyota 4Runner with 100,000 miles on it that costs maybe $5,000 in the US will wind up costing you $12,000 over here.

I didn't want a 4Runner. The mpg isn't very good and we are living on a very tight budget and I don't want to spend that much.

So I found a 1998 Honda CRV. the one Yuji found for $6,700 was way gone. I found one for $8,500. But it was pretty cheesy. I finally found one for $7,500, and after checking with some Khmer friends we figured it was a pretty good price.

Then we went to the bank to get the money. Then we had to figure out how to register it to me....I don't have 1 year visa yet...story for another time. Eventually 'Cal' gave me the plates and sent me on my way.

That was Thursday. Friday morning I woke up to a dead battery. Luckily Yuji was with me. In 5 minutes he turned up with 2 kids about 12 years old who had a battery and 2 screwdrivers. They jumped me and we went battery shopping. The first 2 places we went wanted $65 for their 'Japanese' batteries. They were Korean and priced about $15 too high. The third place was honest and I bought one from them and headed back to Siem Reap.

It takes 6 hours on a bus. I made it in 4.5. I also busted a ball joint, blew a shock, and the brakes got funky. I had everything fixed in Siem Reap on Saturday. Cost me $90. Great by US standards, but I still paid the 'barrong' price.

But the car runs pretty good. I've got a check engine light that comes on. The readout is '..catalyst system efficiency below threshold...' It could be a bad converter or it could be bad gas...there is a lot of that over here. I have an American friend whose cousin owns a a garage in Siem Reap. I'll have Ronnie take me there one day next week and we'll see what he says. The guy I've been working with is pretty good, but ...

It may sound the car is a lemon, but for the price we did pretty well. I'd love to have my old Jeep Cherokee here, but I'd never find parts.

Finally ... Who wants to hold a fundraiser for CSHD?

We have the money from the USDS and we need to buy that new truck right freakin' now. so if you'd like to hold a fundraiser I can help out with some really cool ideas and stuff if you want. We've had folks do them as house parties (Hawaiian and Mama Mia), auctions and dinner parties.

Can't Hold a fundraiser? I've got another option for ya:

Adam Kirby of New Zealand is doing a 160km bicycle race around Lake Taupo. He needs sponsors. If you want to sponsor Adam and help CSHD, contact Adam at

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Difficultiy of Language

We have been in Siem Reap now for over a month and are starting to get settled into the routine, if you can call it a routine. We get up around 6 every morning, walk the dog, have breakfast and then head to the Museum. Sometimes I have to stay in town for meetings or to get things done at the printer, contacting people by computer, etc. but I try to get to the Museum 3 days a week minimum.

Then we are generally home by about 4pm. Jill's teaching schedule finishes up about 4 and it's a 45 - 60 minute tuk tuk ride back into town.

Mikki, our mix-breed Aussie, usually goes with us everywhere. She now knows that 'tuk tuk' (pronounced 'took took') means the same as '...go for a ride...' and if we're walking her and she sees a tuk tuk, she's as apt to jump in as walk past.

As to the language difficulties:

When you're walking your dog and you see people who are nervous about animals, you tell your dog to 'come here.' We say "Come Mikki"

Well it turns out 'come' in Khmer means 'bite'.

So for the first week or so we were in Cambodia people would see Mikki and we'd say "come Mikki" and they'd go screaming away. We couldn't figure it out.

Finally, a bi-lingual friend heard us call Mikki, borke into laughter and said "say something else when you want to call your dog."

The locals call Mikki 'ch'gai barrong'...foreign dog. We correct them and say 'ch'gai Siem Reap'...Siem Reap dog. They think that's hysterical. They all want to know how old she is and when we tell them 'braum mooi' (6) they are astounded. Dogs do NOT live to be 6 in Cambodia.

It was another holiday today. Independence Day (from France). Now it is back to work.

I'll probably go to Phnom Penh on Wednesday. Back on Friday. I need to go to a couple of Ministries and start some inquiries. You never finish them on your first visit. You only start them on your first visit. And I have GOT to buy a car. I can't rely on tuks tuks to get me around town. We'll probably wind up with a small SUV and a moto (scooter). We should be able to get a 10-12 year old Honda CRV for around $6-7,000. That's the plan anyway. And its not LMRF money. This is MY money.

Then Jill and I have to do a border run around the end of the month. We came in on a tourist visa and we need a business visa, so we have to leave the country and re-enter. Poipet is only about 2.5 hours away, so that will be our detination. Leave at 6am and get back around 2...we hope! Cambodia and Thailand are not happy with each other right now and Thailand keeps threatening to close the borders....I need to find a phone number....

That's all for now.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dogtags in the Jungle

It has been a very hectic and heady couple of weeks. We had a very nice story in the Desert Sun, and there a wonderful story on Aki Ra featured on And the people we visited in Hong Kong are still writing checks for the Museum and Child Relief Centre, so that is all really good.


But let me tell you about what happened last week.

I got an email from a good friend, Gary Christ, who works with the Angkor Association for the Disabled. They help landmine victims and have about 4 dozen people living at their facility in Siem Reap. The man who runs the organization had someone walk in the door with what appeared to be human remains, along with two dogtags from American soldiers. They wanted to return them to the proper authorities but didn't know how to go about it. And they didn't want to get in trouble. They had known about these dogtags for several years but hadn't done anything about them.

Geary emailed me because he knew I was in Cambodia. I contacted some people I know at the American Embassy and was put in touch with the MIA Researcher working here.

Keith Lane, a photojournalist from Maine, and I visited AAD and saw both the remains and the dogtags. We went together so we had verifying witnesses as to what we saw. I photographed the dogtags (not the remains) and sent the information on to the Embassy to confirm what information was given to them.

Then we waited.........

I went to several websites and searched the names. They were not among any of the KIA or MIA from the war, but that isn't necessarily definitive. I have a good friend whose brother died in Vietnam. She went to the opening of the Vietnam Memorial in DC and his name was not on the Wall. It is now.

Well... eventually it turned out that these were just a pair of lost dogtags that someone had found in an area where there had been a lot of fighting. From talking to the farmers who brought them in, we think the dogtags were actually found in Vietnam, but the border in the northeast is a bit, shall we say, fluid.

The researcher from the embassy told me there are thousands of dogtags lost during the decade or more in which we had troops in SEA. And they are turning up all the time. If you ever go to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) you will find American dogtags in dozens of souvenir shops. The government used to think there was a little machine shop somewhere in Vietnam pumping these things out, but now they believe them to be real, lost during the war.

So the bottom line is some 65 year old Vietnam Vet could get his identity stolen because he lost his dogtags in Vietnam when he was 19 years old. Dogtags have your SSN on them. Wouldn't that be kick in the behind. Getting bit by Vietnam 40 some years after you thought you had left it behind.

Well more later..........

Babu from the jungle

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

From the Palm Springs Desert Sun - nice stuff!

November 4, 2009
Local man makes good on vow to help rid Cambodia of minesA world traveler, Morse has moved to Southeast Asia on a mission to help his new neighbors

Maggie Downs
The Desert Sun

The scene is bucolic. Swollen clouds hang in a technicolor blue sky. Schoolchildren, on break for lunch, ride their bikes in the distance. A cow grazes on lush grass next to a dirt road.

Only when you notice the objects lining the path do things seem slightly askew.


They stand on end, ushering visitors into The Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Center.

It's a modest $2 to enter the facility, and the paper ticket reassures visitors, “Everything on display has been inspected 100 percent free from explosives.

The displays are horrific. The centerpiece of the structure is a glass gazebo stacked with thousands of landmines in all shapes and sizes. Every room opens another chapter in the bloody genocide that stole more than 20 percent of the country's population between 1970 and 1979.

Even more horrific is the number of explosives that remain active in Cambodia. Though it's impossible to know exactly how many landmines still pepper the jungles and fields, estimates range from 6 to 10 million.

These weapons kill and maim thousands of children, farmers and other civilians every year.

That's why Palm Springs resident Bill Morse volunteered to help.

Clearing mines
The museum was established by Aki Ra, a former child soldier for the Khmer Rouge. In the 1980s, he sometimes placed up to 1,000 landmines per day.

He doesn't like to talk about that period, though. Aki Ra is focused on making the future better, not dwelling on the past.

Aki Ra has since devoted his life to making his country safe again. He has now cleared more than 50,000 landmines, an expensive, tedious, dangerous task — and one that he did by hand until six years ago.

That's when Morse entered the picture.

Morse and his wife, Jill, are adventurers by nature. The couple has traveled the globe, leading tours through Africa, China, Thailand, Peru, Israel, Tahiti, New Zealand, even trekking to the base camp at Mount Everest.

When they went to Cambodia, though, they had no idea how much their lives would change.

Morse heard stories about Aki Ra — who was seeking out and deactivating landmines with a stick —from a friend who was raising money to buy a metal detector for him.

Morse was instantly impressed by this man. Beyond running a landmine museum and clearing explosives, Aki Ra was also caring for dozens of children who were brutally wounded by mines.

Here was someone willing to place his life on the line in order to help his neighbors live a better life.

Nothing could be more admirable.

Morse told Aki Ra he wanted to help.

The Cambodian said he'd heard that story before.

“No, really,” Morse insisted. “I'm going to help you.”

And he made good on his promise.

Getting things done

Morse is one of those people who chips away steadily to get things done. As proof, look to the 11 marathons he has under his belt or ask him about the time he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

So as soon as he made up his mind to assist Aki Ra, Morse got busy.

He sold his sales and marketing consulting business in Palm Springs, then started spending about 8 months a year in Cambodia.

He helped Aki Ra get international certification and a license from the Cambodian government to legally remove the mines. He accompanied Aki Ra in the jungle, sought out explosives, helped disarm them. And he established the Landmine Relief Fund, becoming its director.

When back in the desert, Morse hosted events at Peabody's Cafe, raising thousands of dollars for landmine clearing efforts.

He also worked tirelessly, writing grant proposals, calling government officials and meeting with other groups to secure funds for his organization.

The work recently paid off with a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.

Part of the grant money is earmarked for the purchase of a much-needed truck. It will also be used to establish a rapid response team that can quickly respond to villagers who find mines and need assistance.

“It gives us some breathing room for the things we want to do,” Morse said.

Looking toward the future
Last month Bill and Jill Morse packed up their belongings and turned their desert house over to renters. These days home is a small place in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The couple will be living there full-time for the next two years. Maybe more.

They figure it's the least they can do for an entire country that lives each day in fear.

“My wife and I have been able to travel the world and we've been astounded again and again to find that those who suffer most from our wanton disregard for basic human safety are often the ones who greet us with the biggest smiles, the warmest handshakes and the most gracious hospitality,” Morse said.

“We are the lucky ones.”

They have embraced Aki Ra's example: Rather than focusing on the ghosts of Cambodia's past, they look toward the country's future.

Maggie Downs is a features reporter for The Desert Sun. She can be reached at

Additional Facts
About landmines
Landmines are controversial because they are indiscriminate weapons, harming soldier and civilian alike. They are the one weapon that continues to kill long after wars are over and enemies have reconciled. Because they remain active for up to 150 years, they also render land unusable for many decades.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines campaigned successfully to prohibit their use,
culminating in the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and
Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, known informally as the Ottawa Treaty.

As of 2007, a total of 158 nations have agreed to the treaty.

Thirty-seven countries have not agreed to the ban, including China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia
and the United States.

Help the effort
What: The Landmine Relief Fund
Why: In Cambodia, about 1 in 250 have lost limbs to landmines. Unable to find work, many victims live in extreme poverty. Countless others have lost their lives.
To donate or get more information:

About the museum: The Cambodian Landmine Museum is located about 20 miles from Siem Reap, on the way to the famed pink sandstone temple Banteay Srei. To find out more, visit

Read the Blog
Read Bill Morse' blog: News from the Jungle, The minefields of Cambodia

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hong Kong Tsunami named Jackie

A week ago I left Siem Reap for Hong Kong with Aki Ra.

I’d been to Hong Kong a few times, but Aki Ra had never been there in his life. And this trip might just have changed his life.

A wonderful portrait photographer named Tony Hauser met Aki Ra a few years ago and did a series of portraits of some of the kids at the Museum’s Child Welfare Centre. The photos are amazing. Life-size, you look the kids in the eye as you meet them. Then you can read their story. It’s dramatic, touching, moving, and very dignified. You connect, and you connect viscerally. ( )

Well anyway, a good friend of Tony’s saw the exhibit in London. Her family moved to Hong Kong, and she moved heaven and earth to get the exhibit to come. Her name is Jackie Russell and she is a whirlwind. There is no way this exhibit was not going to be in Hong Kong once Jackie made her mind up to get it there!

The pictures were exhibited at the Canadian International School. If you have had the pleasure of visiting their campus in Aberdeen, Hong Kong, you know how beautiful it is. If you haven’t, go to their website ( and check them out. It is truly one of the nicest facilities I have ever seen.

We met hundreds of kids and Aki Ra and Tony told their stories: Aki Ra of being a child soldier and deciding to spend the rest of his life making Cambodia safe, and Tony of stumbling on the old Museum and returning to do the photos. They were kind enough to let me speak a bit about the history of the conflicts in Cambodia and how I got involved in this campaign.

Jackie kept us running all week. We spoke at the Asia Society, met for nearly 3 hours with CNN, had an interview with the South China Moring Post newspaper, spoke at the FCC and Rotary Club of Kowloon and Jackie hosted a cocktail party on Monday for almost 200 people at the International School where the Canadian Consul, Ms. Doreen Steidle spoke.

But the crème de la crème came Wednesday evening where Jackie and her friends had put together a dinner for over 80 at Crown Wine Cellars in Shouson Hills. It was the armory for the British Army and the last place to fall when Hong Kong was captured by the Japanese at the outbreak of WWII. Now a World Heritage Sight, it is quite amazing.

And so were the people of Hong Kong who raised their glasses and open their wallets for the Child Welfare Centre at the Landmine Museum.

We will forever be in their debt. Jackie and her family are visiting us at the end of the month. We’ll never top what they did, but the smiling faces of the kids will say far more than either Aki Ra, Tony or I could ever say.

Thank you Hong Kong!!!


Friday, October 9, 2009

Floods and Feuds

Okay, so the dog has been ignoring me now for about 2 days…although it should probably be spelled ‘daze’.

We left LA on Sunday the 4th of October. We left the house at 4pm, with more than a tad of trepidation. We’ve always wanted to live in Palm Springs; and while we moved 14 times in the first 28 years we were married, we’ve lived in this house for 13 years. Of course we will be back…but it’s still tuff to lock up and walk away from your life for a couple of years. At least…

We got to LAX, put Mikki (our mixed breed Aussie) in a kennel and boarded our flight for a 17 ½ hour flight to Bangkok. Sitting in our seat we could see Mikki in her crate sitting all alone on the tarmac at LAX while all the other luggage was loaded. I stood in first class and looked out the window until I was sure she made it on board. Jill was…let’s just say she was wiping her eyes.

The flight turned out to br the easy part.

Arriving in Bangkok we had to get Mikki out of customs, pay her ‘duty’ to be in Thailand for all of 4 hours and get outa Dodge. Turns out the vet at the airport was sleeping in a back room and no one could find him. Wish they hadn’t. By the time we got through with him we were out a nice chunk of change. We almost didn’t get her outa hock. No one could figure out how to do the paperwork since we were driving to Cambodia the same day. Then the customs guys got their 1,000 Baht. It wasn’t a bribe, ‘cause I got a receipt.

Our driver was waiting though. We loaded our 4 suitcases, 4 carry-ons, and Mikki's kennel into his ‘stretch’ cab and headed for Poipet on the Cambodian border. Not a problem. Smooth as glass.

Then we got to Poipet. We needed a hand drawn cart, 5 handlers, one chief and the 2 of us to negotiate the Thai and Khmer intricacies. That cost us well over $100. Then we had the 19 minute bus ride to the bus station. Don’t even ask….

But once we got there, Sophary and Sau were waiting for us. We got back to Siem Reap at about 2:30 and made it home by 3:00 after we fed the crew.

Jill had never seen the house; only pictures. It’s really very nice … 4 bedrooms, office and walled. We have a/c in 3 of the bedrooms and the office, which is nice. We spent the last couple of days getting things set up, buying a few dishes, silverware, and cleaning.

Sunday Aki Ra and I fly to Hong Kong where a wonderful supporter of the cause, Jackie Russell, has arranged a whole speaking tour for us, with an interview with CNN on Wednesday. When I find out when it will be on, I’ll let everyone know.

We get wifi at the house on Saturday so I will try and get more up on the blog on our return.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

4 Bags and a Bark

Well, the dog is not enthralled with her travel kennel.

But after a couple of Xanax, she will spend as much time in it as I want. (Heck with 2 miligrams of Xanax I'd probably let Jill ship me to Cambodia in a kennel). But dogs metabolize the stuff differently, so don't send me letters and emails. We are following the vets orders.

We leave in 5 daze for Siem Reap. We've packed our bags and are washing clothes every 2 days. What we're wearing now will stay here.

We've packed up the house, and gotten it ready for the renters we hope are coming.

We've shampooed the carpets and scrubbed the grout.

We've painted the bedrooms and put in solar screens in the living room and the den

We got new cushions for the backyard.

We bought a new grill.

We cleaned out the garage.

Hold on........I don't think I want to leave........

I talked to my amigos in Siem Reap this week. Our little house is ready. The water works. The electricity is on and on Thursday they hook up the Internet and the TV. I may be moving to Cambodia, but I AM moving there to work. We'll have room for guests, so if you want to come, call and make a reservation. haha

We leave Sunday from LAX and fly direct to Bangkok. Then we have an 8 hour car ride to Siem Reap. We'd fly, but the plane is not pressurized and it would be tough on the puppy. So we have a taxi driver picking us up in Bangkok and driving us to the Cambodian border and then a friend picking us up at the border and driving us to Siem Reap. Should arrive about 30 hours after we leave LA. About the same amount of time it normally takes me to get into LA on a busy day.....

Lots of good things happening after a very rough year.

Now we just need to raise the other $10k for the new truck.

Babu (almost) in the jungle

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Increase in Federal Grant to $100,000

Well, what can we say....

The State Department has increased our federal grant from 6 months to 12 months, and doubled the amount of money of the grant to $100,000.

This grant is not a replacement for the continuing support we all have given Aki Ra and CSHD.

This grant is seed money for Aki Ra and Cambodian Self Help Demining. The intention of the grant is to assist all of us in increasing the reach and scope of the work we do. The USDS was impressed enough with the objectives we presented and the unique qualifications and motivation Aki Ra and his team has demonstrated over the years, to fund us quickly and at the full amount requested.

This grant comes with qualifications. $10,000 can be used to buy a new truck (you have no idea how badly we need one). We need to raise the balance, $10,000 more.

The grant helps us hire a teacher who will work with the deminers, teaching them English and helping them improve their basic skills. We have to maintain the program.

The grant gives us the money to install a Rapid Response Team, who can respond to ERW (explosive remnants of war) threats outside the identified mine field in which we are working. We often have villagers come to our work site and tell us of mines they have found in nearby villages. We now have a way of quickly responding to those calls for help. We need to maintain the team.

This grant gives us some breathing room.

If we meet the many objectives we set for ourselves, we stand a good chance of receiving continuing grants from Department of State. But that will only happen if supporters like us continue to help CSHD with contributions.

And please, don't think for a minute that any contribution is too small. If everyone who gave $20 stopped donating, we'd have to close our doors.

Become a continuing donor. Go to and click on the PayPal button.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

$50,000 Grant

I am very pleased to announce that on the 9th of September, the Landmine Relief Fund received a $50,000 grant from the United States Department of State, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.

In response to an acknowledgement of the grant award and a thank you, they said: ”... You brought in a good idea and made a very convincing pitch for it, turned the idea into a sound proposal, and navigated the flaming hoops of the bureaucracy in record time…”

The grant, which is for a period of 6 months, will be used to help Aki Ra’s demining NGO, Cambodian Self Help Demining, make Cambodia a safer place. Working with the VVMCT-Cambodia, the Australian veterans group that has been so instrumental to CSHD’s existence, we can help CSHD continue changing the lives of Cambodians living in ‘low priority’ villages throughout the Kingdom.

This grant was not awarded to replace money we raise, from you, on a regular basis to fund CSHD. It was awarded to assist in the growth of the NGO. We’ll be using $10,000 of the grant to buy a new truck. It’s half of what we need, and we’ve agreed to raise the balance. Right now CSHD is driving a 1997 Toyota Hilux p/u truck. Let’s just say it has seen better daze. We can buy a very good used mid-sized Toyota pickup for $20,000. We’ll keep the old one for backup.

Here’s a chance to ‘double up’ on your donation. The US government believes enough in what we are doing that they are matching the $10,000 we will raise, and they’re doing it up front.

And how often do you get to buy the 'back end' of a pickup truck!?

CSHD exists because of the help Aki Ra’s supporters and their abiding belief that Cambodia can be made safe. Pitch in now with our newest supporter and help CSHD grow so it can save more lives.

Donate at

Friday, July 31, 2009

We Really Are the Lucky Ones

We really are the lucky ones you know.

With all that is going on in the world right now its difficult to see how truly lucky we really are to be living in the West. Our economies are faltering, and our home prices are falling. Many of you, like me, may have lost most of your retirement account when the market crashed last year...

But we don't die from walking through a park. We don't have to bribe officials for an education. We still have clean water and enough to eat.

Millions across the planet struggle every day for the basics: food, clothing, shelter, enough education to pull themselves out of the grips of poverty. And millions more are threatened by the remnants of wars past. The most heavily mined country in the world isn't Cambodia. Neither is it Angola, Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan. The most heavily mined country in the world is Egypt. 23,000,000 mines are estimated to be left over from the Second World War. Millions across the globe live every day with these threats.

My wife and I have been able to travel the world and we've been astounded again and again to find that those who suffer most from our wanton disregard for basic human safety, are often the ones who greet us with the biggest smiles, the warmest handshakes and the most gracious hospitality.

We decided that we needed to give something back for all that we have received. We found Aki Ra. His simple goal is to make his country safe for his people. He's adopted 2 dozen maimed and orphaned kids and his NGO, Cambodian Self Help Demining clears landmines and unexploded bombs in 'low priority' villages across the country. We decided to help him in his work. We've been doing it for 6 years.

We decided that we really need to be on the ground in Cambodia to do the most good, so in October we are closing our home and moving to Siem Reap. We've committed to a 2 year 'gig'. If that works well, who knows....

And we really are the lucky ones.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Minefields Anew

It’s been a long time since I lasted posted so this missive may be a bit long, but I want to bring everyone up to date on all that is happening over here.

First of all, for those of you who know me and my wife Jill: it looks like we will be moving to Cambodia in October. Jill visited me here in February and did some teaching. When we got home she asked if I’d ever considered moving to Cambodia. I told her I had, but didn’t have the nerve to bring it up. She simply laughed, and said ‘let’s go’. My parents, who live nearby in Rancho Mirage, with whom we are very close, were a concern of mine. I planned talk to them and when we met for dinner they asked me when were going to move since there was so much to do. Well, that settled that concern.

We’ll need to rent out our home as I don’t want to give it up, and we’ve committed to 2 years.

I said I would only do it with the consent of Aki Ra, as I don’t want to be here if he has concerns about any perceived interference. He was enthusiastic about it. So it looks like we will be making a big move later this year.

I’ve been over here pretty much since the beginning of the year. CSHD is fully established but not nearly accomplishing what it could. The main hindrance we have is funding.

It costs CSHD about $5,000 a month to operate. We currently have 12 deminers and an office staff of one, an incredible young woman named Sophary, who handles the books, and files all the necessary reports with the numerous government agencies to whom we must report. I can’t say enough good about what she does. AND, she is a going to night school to get her degree in accounting. We pay her what I consider a pittance, but it is a good salary over here. As a bonus, we are giving her a rebuilt computer. She doesn’t have one. She will now.

We operate with 2 vehicles: a 10 year old Toyota pickup truck and a 10 year old Toyota 4Runner we converted to an ambulance. Last month we bought a used Suzuki moto to run errands with.

We really need another vehicle.

We’ve applied to the US government for a grant to help fund us for the next 12 months, but frankly, the chances of getting it this year are slim. The USDS, which funds demining projects around the world, is in a pinch right now, and while we can operate at less than half the cost of other humanitarian demining companies, grants for new NGOs are probably not going to happen until the economy recovers. And that will be at least another year, I think. (The optimistic economist in me speaking)

What we need is about $100,000. That will get us the new equipment we need, allow us to field a ‘rapid response team’ that can deal with immediate crises in our operating theatre and keep us going for the next 12 months.

It sounds like a lot. But actually its only 166 people donating $50 per month.

There are thousands who have seen what Aki Ra has accomplished. There are tens of thousands who have visited Cambodia and are aware of the continuing threats these gentle people live with every day.

And there are millions, around the world, who can afford one less ‘dining experience’ a month to change the lives of villagers who live daily with the threats of unexploded mines and bombs.

2 years ago, Aki Ra was clearing mines in flip flops. He was arrested by the government more than once. His Museum was closed for a short period of time in 2006, and he was ordered to cease all his mine clearing work in 2007.

Today he has his own demining NGO, certified by the government and actively working to make Cambodia safer. And in June, partly because of his dedication to his country, he was promoted to Captain in the Royal Cambodian Army. Tremendous progress…

We can’t let these huge accomplishments fade into the jungle. We can all help Aki Ra and Cambodian Self Help Demining change the lives of thousands without a lot of effort.

www.Landmine-Relief-Fund.comClick on the PayPal button

Do it to help those who can’t help themselves.
Do it for yourself.

But please do it today.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Rainy Days and Empty Streets

It’s the rainy season over here right now and the first time I’ve been here this late into the monsoon period. I thought it would rain all the time. You know, just pour from the sky, flood the streets, fill the rice paddies and swamp villages. But it’s not that way at all. It will rain a lot, sometimes every day. But the rains usually come in the late afternoon, and seldom last for more than hour.

By my goodness; when it does rain, it leaves little doubt. The storms roll in with dark clouds, lighting and thunder that sound like bombs going off. One struck just across the street from me once, and I nearly jumped out of my skin.

Then the rains start. I’ve seen it rain so hard you can barely see across the street. And if the winds come in, it can be nearly horizontal.

Then almost as quickly as it started it will go away. The clouds usually linger and that’s good because it’s always hot over here, but if the sun is blocked it can be quite pleasant.

Right now it’s 10:30 in the morning on Friday. I’m sitting upstairs at a little café in downtown Siem Reap watching the traffic pass by below me. It’s cloudy out today and the sun is passing from one huge cloud to the next. I guess we’ll have some rain this afternoon.

When I was here last year it was pretty crowded with tourists in Siem Reap. The economy hadn’t crashed…any where, and things looked pretty rosy. Land prices in Siem Reap, like many places around the world, were skyrocketing. Land that cost $5,000 a few years ago was selling for 20-30 times that now, especially with all the new roads that are being built. There was a lot of speculation and people were making tons of money.

Then came October.

The tourist industry didn’t start to feel the hit until after the high season ended in February/March. People visiting Cambodia last fall had bought their tours before the economic collapse and couldn’t cancel so they came. But people aren’t buying the tours in the numbers they used to.

Most of the tourists over here now are trekkers; young kids in their 20s, many recent college grads, who’ve decided to see the world since they can’t find a job. The middle class, mid-aged, and older tourists are far and few between.

I’ve been told that at least 7 hotels have closed. Temporarily they hope. And it is true that at this time of year, low season, hotels often take the time to renovate and may close for a while. But the locals are comparing this to the SARS epidemic of 2003 when tourism to Asia virtually ceased and hundreds of thousands lost their jobs.

Adding to the troubles is the political turbulence in Thailand where demonstrators have shut down the Bangkok airport for weeks at a time. Most of the tourists flying into Siem Reap to see the temples of Angkor come in from Bangkok, so that too is affecting the whole industry.

But Cambodia will get through this crisis as it has all the others it’s faced over the last 50 years. As bad as things appear, no one is killing anyone.

More as the world turns……

Babu in the jungle

Saturday, June 6, 2009

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...

It was a dark and stormy night……

Wait a minute … it was not…. (but I always wanted to write that)

It was dark and humid night though, and I was going into town at 2100hrs (that’s Mickey’s big hand on the 12 and his little hand on the 9 – at night …. Remember…it was dark outside).

Now guys like me don’t normally go into town that late at night. I’m the kinda guy who gets called “Papa” from the vendors and the locals. Even though I may be old enough to be their fathers, and often their grandfathers, I still don’t like it. It’s been suggested that may be the reason I’m over here in Cambodia trying to help my friend clear landmines.


I was headed into downtown Siem Reap at 2100hrs on a Thursday night to play trivia. There’s a local pub called the Funky Monkey, run by an ex-pat Brit couple. Rumor has it he worked on the docks in London and she was stunt-woman in the movies. They have a mutt named Floyd (think Pink Floyd) who is walked around Siem Reap on a leash by any of his many ‘attendants’. Floyd lacks for little and is the king of the roost at the Monkey.

The trivia contest usually starts around 9pm and lasts about 2 hours. Questions range from history and geography, to sports and the arts, with usually a lot of weird stuff thrown in for good measure.

Trivia Night is big ex-pat event. It costs $US1 to play and they usually take up a collection during the night. Proceeds go to local NGOs (non-governmental orgs). Last week we raised $240 for a medical NGO.

To give you an idea what the questions can be like: last weeks questions all came from the movies. Everything…geography, sports, history, etc. Then there were also famous movie lines.

The one I liked best was from True Grit: “That’s bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.” I often hear an off-take on that from my wife when I come up with some stupid trip like climbing Kilimanjaro or hiking to Mt. Everest.

I left when the grading started. It was after midnight and way past my bedtime.

I found out today we won.

Back again next Thursday if I’m in town.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Landmines Still Killing People

First of all, I apologize for all the typos in the last post. There was a terrible storm in Phnom Penh and I got knocked off line several times and could not get back on. I decided to just leave the post as is...kinda gives you an idea....

To the subject....

There were 2 mine explosions in the last week. The first killed a Cambodian soldier and wounded two others. It was in Preah Vahear, near where the fighting has been going on for nearly a year with the Thai Army.

(Back story:) The border between Thailand and Cambodia has always been disputed. In the '60s an international commission established the border, placing the ancient temple at Preah Vahear inside Cambodia, although the access road runs from Thailand. No one ever disputed it until last year when Cambodia had the site declared a World Heritage Sight. At that point the Thais claimed the temple as theirs and sent troops there. Cambodia responded by sending their own forces. As many as 4,000 troops have been encamped in a face off since July of last year. Fighting has been sporadic. The Thais, earlier this year, shelled the Cambodian market outside the temple and destroyed it forcing the villagers to flee. Several Thai soldiers have died from wounds suffered when they wandered into uncleared mine fields. The Thais claim Cambodia is re-mining the area, but the area shows as 'uncleared' in the official records.

Nevertheless, last weekend some soldiers were helping local villagers gather rattan in the forest when they stepped on some anti personnel mines. 1 dead, 2 injured.

On Monday there was another 'incident' (I really hate that term). I haven't found any details of it yet, but will post when I know what happened.

There is fair chance that there will be more fighting in the area. The Thais certainly out-gun the Khmers. They have heavy weapons, tracked vehicles, and jets. But the Khmers have the experience and the jungle. A straight out battle would most likely go to the Thais, but an extended jungle war would favor the Cambodians, many of whom are veterans of the nearly 50 years of war inflicted on Cambodia by a multitude of different armies.

I had lunch last week with an army unit that just returned from a month of duty along the border. They had a Khmer New Years party so that was pretty interesting. They were back for a week and are now heading back north to face-off with the Thais. It's different over here. When the army marches north, the families follow...sorta like 200 years ago. Wives will set up camp, cook for their husbands who will do their 'shift' and come 'home' for the evening. A bit different to say the least.

More as it develops.....

Babu from the jungle.....

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rainy Daze and Running Around

Well, it's rainy season here tight now and when it rains, it really rains.

I'm sitting at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh looking out over where the Tonley Sop and Mekong merge. Well, I'm sort of looking at it, since the rain is hard enough to cut the 25 yard distance to near zero visability.

But it should only rain for about 30 minutes or so and it dows knock down the humidity which is currently running about 80%.

I had to come here yesterday so I could take 3 of our mine detectors in for repair. It sohould take about a week or so and theen we'll be back up to snuff on that. I also had to come down and buy one new GPS unit. We only have one, and we really need about 10, but they cost $550 each and we don't have the cash to buy them. So we'll make do with two. It takes a bit longer to do the work as we have to pass them around between the deminers as they do their work, but we still get it done.

We started our nwest village last week, Daearv. The second day we found an 82B Vietnamese AP mine and an old American hand grenade. Probably used by the Vietnamese from caches we left behind at the end of the war.

I head back to Siem Reap tomorrow morning and will head back here in another week.

In the last 2 days there have been 2 mine3 explosions near Preay Vahear Temple. The first one killed a Cambodian soldier and wounded 2 civilians. There were collecting rattan near the border and wandered into the field. There was a second detonation this morning. I don't have details on that one yet.

More as it develops.

Babu out

Ps: Please don't forget to order your Kokchombok Bracelets. Order at the website:

Friday, May 22, 2009

From the Phnom Penh Post - May 20 2009

(full story and photos at

Former child soldier's demining efforts finally gain recognition
Written by Tracey Shelton
Anlong Veng

As the sun rises between the trees, Akira, president of the Cambodian Self Help Demining (CSHD) team, begins his morning by setting a stick of TNT next to a land mine. The mine lies within a 4-hectare minefield his team is clearing in Anlong Veng.

Local military, police and authorities are notified of the impending explosion. As the rest of the team stop work to take cover, Akira, wiping sweat from under his thick protective clothing, helmet and face shield, counts down. A boom rings out, the ground shakes and debris flies into the air as the land mine is destroyed.

"Before, it would only take me a minute to defuse and remove a mine," Akira says, referring to his former gung-ho method of clearing mines with nothing but a stick and a knife. "I would collect the detonators in my pocket and make a fire at the end
of the day to burn explosives from the mines I collected.... When I cleared the old way, I could wear a sarong and sandals. But now we must follow NGO procedures."

For more than 10 years, Akira was famous throughout Cambodia for his controversial demining methods. Although opposed by government authorities and other demining groups for not following international safety standards, Akira, a former child soldier with the Khmer Rouge, became a local hero, clearing the countryside of more than 50,000 mines, many of which he had once laid.

Earlier this year, with the help of supporters both here and abroad, Akira gained the equipment and training needed to meet international standards and obtained a licence for him and his team to demine, creating the first Cambodian-run demining

"Now we have much support, so there is no more trouble," Akira said, after relating stories of being arrested for his work and the land mine museum he opened in Siem Reap in 1997 being closed down periodically and its contents confiscated. "At that time, I liked to demine alone in the jungle or with my wife. I didn't have the equipment to start an NGO, but I knew how to lay and I knew how to defuse. All kinds of land mines and bombs I know how to make safe, and I have cleared many, many thousands until now."

BACTAC country director Peter Ferguson, who helped Akira prepare for demining zccreditation, said many changes were required.

BETWEEN 4 million and 6 million mines, 6 million to 7 million cluster bombs and countless unexploded ordnances (UXOs) are estimated to remain in Cambodian
soil, according to data from the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority.

Since demining began in 1992, licensed deminers have cleared 829,325 anti-personnel mines, 20,542 anti tank mines, and 1,791,373 UXOs. These figures do not include over
50,000 mines and UXO's cleared by Akira prior to receiving his demining licence. By the end of April this year, 493,488,595 square metres of land had been cleared.

Although formal research has not been conducted, it is estimated that a further 700 square kilometres remain contaminated. Between 2000 and 2008, 6,144 casualties and fatalities occurred in Cambodia due to landmines or UXO explosions. In its ntegrated Work Plan for 2009, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre estimates that it will clear more than 35 million square metres of landmine and UXO fields by year's end. The group's plan further states that as many as 132,000 UXOs will be safely extracted and disposed of.

Fifteen families are farming that land right now. A year ago that land was killing

"The way he used to work was to go into the field, find mines, render them safe and
remove them, often bringing them back for display at the museum," he said. "In
humanitarian demining, you can't operate that way. Particularly with land mines, they
cannot be moved. You locate them and destroy them in place." But after the necessary equipment was donated and training completed, field reports on Akira's methods were excellent, Ferguson said.

Along with his new accreditation has come respect from those who once opposed him.
Two years ago, the Cambodian Mine Action Authority (CMAA) certified the contents of
Akira's land mine museum in Siem Reap safe - the first time in the world such a museum has been opened to the public.

In an email, CMAA said they welcomed Akira and his team's help in clearing contaminated land. "Akira should be commended for his hard work in educating the greater public about the dangers of land mines," the statement read.

With their workday over and dusk approaching, the CSHD team settles into hammocks
around a campfire, boiling their jungle soup of wild fruit and animal innards. Akira tells how he lost his entire family in the late '70s - all but one aunt, a Khmer Rouge solider, who took him in. Unsure of his birth date, Akira estimates he was between 10 and 13 when he became a soldier for the Khmer Rouge, learning about warfare and weaponry. Later, joining the Vietnamese army, Akira says his job was to control the K5 mine belt that stretched along the Thai border, planting new mines and training others to do the same.

"I never knew anything but war," he said. "It was normal. When the UN came, I met many people from many different places. They explained that in the rest of the world, it is different. They explained about poor and rich, war and peace. It changed my ideas."

He became passionate about seeing his country free from war and the remnants of war,
particularly the land mines he had helped lay.

Bill Morse, president of the Land Mine Relief Fund, an American NGO he established to
support Akira's work, said when he first met Akira in 2003 he was "amazed by how much
one person could do".

As one of many who helped Akira establish CSHD, Morse proudly spoke of the 3-hectare
minefield in Siem Reap province the team completed clearing last month. "Fifteen families are farming that land right now. A year ago, that land was killing them," he said.

Despite the major achievements of CSHD this year, the team received a devastating loss last month with the death of Akira's wife of nine years, Bou Senghourt, due to prenatal complications. Having defused more than 1,000 landmines by hand, the genial mother of three was a key part of CSHD and an inspiration to many.

Richard Fitoussi, director of the Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief Fund, which has
been supporting Akira's work since 2002, described her as Akira's right-hand man in the field. "The vision she shared with Akira was of Cambodians clearing for Cambodians, and she extended that to include women," he said. "I have no doubt she was the inspiration for the several women that have joined the demining team."
Back in the minefield in Anlong Veng, Akira explained how people and livestock had been killed in the area for years. While widening the road last year, a work truck hit an antitank mine, killing all on board.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Back in the Jungle Again ... I think

22,000 miles in 10 days. Make that daze.

That's what I did at the end of April.

I left Siem Reap and headed home at the end of April. My godson, Adam, was graduating from Clemson University and there was no way we were going to miss that. I was home for 72 hours and we flew from LA to Charlotte.

Adam graduated on the 8th of May. We got to have a good few days with him. He and I played golf on a really beautiful course that Clemson owns. I haven't picked up a stick in over 8 years. And even then I didn't play a full 18. I shot a 105 and beat Adam by 3 strokes. I was pretty pleased. Kids 23....I'm ... well ... a lot older than 23.

Jill and I got to spend a nice weekend at a beautiful B&B in Davidson, NC. Davidson is right out of a tourbook. It is charming. I would move there in a heartbeat. We even looked at condos.

Then we flew back to LA, where I spent the night at LAX and left the next morning for Cambodia. I'm still not sure what day it is.

Things are going better over here.

CSHD has completed clearing its 2nd village, and begins its 3rd this week. Ive been trying to update the website, but for some reason I can't. I'm having to re-import the entire site and that could take me in excess of 8 hours with the absolutely feenominal bandwidth they have here in Siem Reap.

I'm a little annoyed......

We have the Kokchombok bracelets all set to sell, and can't get them on the site. Sheesh.

Our newest village, Daearv, is north of Siem Reap on the way to Anlong Veng. The village chief asked us today if we could raise enough money to help them finish a new Pagoda.

They need $1,000. And you get your name on the Pagoda.

Look at it this way. You're gonna cover a lot of bases here what with the karma you can get for helping a small village get a new pagoda.

Well, I am about out of battery juice and the bandwidth still stinks. So I am gonna go back to my guest house and have dinner.

Babu from the Jungle........

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mind the Gap

If you're English you know what that means.

If you're not English you might think it refers to David Letterman or something...and well, I guess it does in a way.

As a little aside, and to let you know what it's like to live over here, let me describe a little search I've been on for a few days.

Wednesday I broke a tooth. Not a big deal, more like the facing on a tooth I'd had some work done on. Luckily, the piece that came off is still intact and I found it before I bit it into pieces. It didn't seem like a major problem and I figured I could buy dental adhesive or Polident, glue it back and deal with it when I got home. I usually carry a little dental repair kit with me when I travel, but this time I left it at home. Murphy's Law....

So I spent the last 4 days looking for dental adhesive. I went to pharmacies in Siem Reap ... they didn't even know what I was talking about. I had to go to Phnom Penh on Friday so I checked there. Someone offered super glue; I graciously declined.

Now my absolute last resort is to go to a Khmer dentist. Last resort begins with excruciating pain and several days of lost sleep screaming into a pillow. You'd understand that if you ever saw a Khmer dentist's office. They are usually store fronts along the side of the road or downtown. They may be next to a small market or just off the dirt path. You can find them because they have a big sign out front with huge tooth on it. I've never actually seen anyone in one of these offices....

Finally today, Sunday, I decided to go see the new shopping center in town. They have a little bitty pharmacy in it, mostly selling cosmetics. But they had Polident. A 6 ounce tube cost me $12.

Probably more than the dentist....

So while I was in Phnom Penh I had some meetings. I was to meet a good friend for dinner at 1830. At 1800 he called and said 'I can't get out of my house.' It had rained Friday afternoon. 3.5 inches of rain in 45 minutes. Absolutely flooded the town. While his car is 4WD and sits high off the road, the ones stuck weren't. We met for breakfast.

Last night I was gonna go downtown and have dinner then try and watch some sports at the Warehouse. It started raining about 1630 and rained until after 1900. and when it rains over here during the rainy season, it rains HARD.

I stayed at Green Town and watched Indiana Jones on the new big screen TV.

Today is Sunday and everyone is taking a rest.

Back to work tomorrow.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Personal Update

In the last day or so I've begun to feel the enormity of Hourt's death. I spent a good deal of time with Aki Ra and Hourt's brother, Senghour and his wife Sotling (who is expecting their first child any second). They are bearing up well. This afternoon I was at the office, which is part of Aki Ra and Hourt's house, and I spent a lttle time with Amatek, their oldest child. He ran over and started playing a little name-game we play and then jumped up into my arms and gave me a big hug.

That was difficult.

I'm helping Sophary in the CSHD office get a handle on things that Hourt used to do. She is very capable, but relied in Hourt a great deal. She'll do fine.

Tonite I had dinner downtown and was deleting some pictures off my mobile phone when I found one of Hourt and Mine I didn't even know I had.

When I ran a business I had what I called the "Runaway Truck Theory of Management", meaning if the boss got hit by a runaway truck, could someone step in and figure out what he did. This is just way too surreal....

I've been calling home a couple of times a day and talking with Jill about what's going on over here. Without her advise and support this would be infinitely more difficult.

Richard Fitoussi, from the Canadian NGO CLMMRF arrives this weekend and I will be very happy to have him here. Having someone to knock around with makes this less horrible.

Okay...enuff whining.

Every Thusrday night the NGOs in town get together and have a trivia night at one of the local pubs, The Funky Monkey. I'm headed over there in about an hour to see how well I can do.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009


It's Wednesday afternoon here and things, amazingly, are getting back to some semblance of normality after the terrible tragedy of last week.

The children have all returned to the Museum and are back to their ruoutines, which is good, since they need that structure, involvement and activity.

Mine and Amamtak are back in school. I'm not sure they quite yet grasp the fullness of their loss, but Aki Ra is there with them every day.

The deminers are back in the field and Yon, Aki Ra's brother has joined the team as a supervisor.

I visited Hourt yesterday with Babes Feddon, a representative of the Cambodian Mine Action Authority, seconded to them by the United Nations. He left a wreath and we went to the Museum where he paid his condolences to AKi Ra.

Word is just getting out over here about Hourt's loss as many were away from the cities for the holidays.

Thank you for all the donations to help pay for Hourt's funeral. Aki Ra and the family have been deeply moved by the outpouring from around the world.

More later

Sunday, April 19, 2009


To all those who have emailed me in the past few days, I apologize for not being able to give a personal response. I'll be posting here on a regular basis updating everyone on the happenings here in Cambodia.

Hourt's funeral services finished yesterday at noon. I arrived at 1330hrs. While I was unable to be here for any of the ceremonies, I was able to meet with Aki Ra, and Hourts family and convey all of our deepest sympathies and the depths of our sorrow.

As for the circumstances of her death, I am not going to go there. It is enough that she is gone, and our thoughts should be on her accomplishments and successes.

The children are doing alright although they don't understand that she is gone. Aki Ra is coping well. He has a lot of support, family and friends with him. I actually think they are coping better than we are. They are together and have been grieving together. We have to do it by ourselves, alone with our memories of this wonderful woman who accomplished so much in such a short time.

Her burial place is just outside Siem Reap in a lovely Pagoda surrounded by the countryside she loved so much. Her stupa (burial mound) is covered in flowers and there are dozens of incense sticks around her resting place. I visited her yesterday with Aki Ra and I will post a photo of her stupa later in the week.

The work goes on at the Museum and at CSHD. The children who had families went home a week ago to celebrate Khmer New Years which ends today, Sunday. Most were notified by phone of Hourt's passing and the others will be told as they arrive back at the Museum. Aki Ra returned there yesterday as did Sanghour and his wife Sotling. They are expecting their first child, a girl, any day.

The Landmine Relief Fund and the Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief Fund have raised most of the money to pay for the funeral expenses and for Hourt's stupa. We wanted to do this to not merely help the family meet these expenses, but so that we can all share in this tribute to a very special woman.

The flags at the Museum are flying at half staff and will do so for the next month.

More later.


Saturday, April 18, 2009


It is with profound sadness that I announce the passing of Aki Ra's wife Hourt. She was the mother of Amatak, Mine, Metta and dozens of children who now and in years passed have called the Cambodia Landmine Museum their home.

She will be deeply missed. She made all of our lives better for having known her.

I am en route to Siem Reap for her funeral services which have already begun. I will be there for a couple of weeks to help where I can and let Aki Ra and the family know that they are in our hearts and prayers at this terrible time.

Donations to help them cover the cost of the funeral can be made at the our website: Any excess monies will be used to carry on the works that were so close to Hourt's heart.

With deep sadness

Sunday, April 12, 2009

New Year and Gratitude

It's Khmer New Years so I thought it was a good time to sit down and tell a story about a young man who taught me how to look at the world through a different pair of glasses.

In February I sat with a 17 year old boy who told me how his hands were blown off when he picked up an unexploded cluster bomb.

He'd been told about landmines and UXOs. But he was 17! Remember when you were 17?

You were invincible.
You were immortal.
You would never grow old and wrinkled, bent and wheezy.

But this young man is grateful. He's grateful that he's found a home where he is cared for. He's grateful that he has the opportunity to go to school and get an education where most in his country don't. He's grateful to have others around who understand his physical limitations and push him beyond them.

He's actually a pretty happy kid.

There are a lot of kids in Cambodia who aren't happy, grateful or coping.

That's why my friend, Aki Ra, started clearing mines wherever he could find them. That's why he does it for free; and that's why he and his wife Hourt have adopted dozens of maimed, orphaned and destitute kids.

And its my very great honour to be allowed to help in my small way.

We can all make a difference. We just have to try.

Today is the beginning of the Cambodian New Year Celebration. So to all:
Sua Sdei Chnam Thmei

Happy Easter
Happy Passover


Saturday, March 7, 2009


There are over
Left in Cambodia


2nd Annual Landmine Relief Fund Auction

Peabody’s Café
134 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
(760) 322—1877
Wednesday March 25 - 7:00 PM



Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Costs of Demining

Cost Benefit Analysis: A process by which you weigh expected costs against expected benefits to determine the best (or most profitable) course of action

We get asked all the time: "How much does it cost you to clear a landmine?" or "How many mines can you clear with the money we donate?"

Let's restructure that questions a bit:

If you were told there was a landmine in the park where your children played, how much money would you spend to find it? Or more simply put: what’s the value of your child’s life?

Cost benefit analysis in mine clearing tries to put a dollar value on a life versus the cost of a clearing program. You tell me what the dollar value of a human life is? I certainly don’t know.

How much does it cost to clear a mine field? We spend whatever it takes.
One mine – One life.

CSHD is clearing mines in ‘low priority’ villages. Many in the government don’t like that term. All villages and all lives are of equal importance. But in reality, some villages will be cleared later rather than sooner. Sometimes it’s because teams are not available, sometimes because funds are scarce, and sometimes because more mines can be cleared in a shorter period of time in other places. All these reasons ‘shove’ villages to the bottom of the list…low priority.

But they are NOT low priority to the people getting blown up.

We’re often asked ‘How many mines can you clear for the dollar?’ It’s an impossible question to answer clearly. If we clear a densely mined filed it’s low. If we clear a jungle field, where we have to hack our way in, with only a few mines per hectare, the cost may be high. The village we’re clearing now is the latter. Yet they’ve lost 5 dead, 3 maimed and 15 cattle. We’re clearing the land slowly because of the jungle bush we need to clear. But when we’re through 15 families will have land to farm and safely raise their children.

I can’t cost/benefit that. Can you?

The next mine field we’ll clear is an open field. We should be able to move quickly and clear it in a matter of weeks. Faster equals cheaper. But if we tried to work faster in Kokchombuk we’d likely miss some little mines. Faster may be cheaper, but it can also be deadly.

How do you cost/benefit a life; or a leg? Is the loss of your right hand worth more than loss of your left? If a child dies, do you value that at a lower amount than a working adult? Or do you calculate the ‘potential’ income the child would have in a lifetime to determine your cost/benefit ratio?

And the ultimate question: if you can cost/benefit a mine field, when do you just walk away and say: “It’s cheaper to let ‘em die.” That will clear the field too.

We don’t cost/benefit mine clearing. We’d rather look at lives changed and villages made free from fear.

One Mine – One Life

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Recovery of Sim Sao

Sim Sao has been a tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap for 7 years. Before that he was a monk. He’s married with children now and supports them on the little income he gets from the tourists in Siem Reap. When he works, he sleeps on the floor of a restaurant a friend owns.

Those of us who work with Aki Ra and the kids have been using Sao as our driver for the last several years. We hire him on a weekly basis. He can find anything, knows tons of people, and can get us anywhere we want to go on time, and most importantly, in a country where it is bad luck to look over your shoulder (no kidding), he gets us where want to go safely.

About 6 weeks ago Sao was driving home to his village, about 45 minutes from town, when he had a collision with a food cart vendor. Sao was driving down the road on his motor scooter when the food cart turned in front of him. (Remember it’s bad luck to look over your shoulder.) The two collided, and the boiling oil from the food cart spilled all over Sao’s right leg. He sustained severe 2nd degree burns to his inside calf and thigh.

Unlike at home, there is free medical coverage in Cambodia. But like the poor in the US, you have to sit in the emergency room for hours to get treated. To get good, fast care you have to pay, and it starts at about $50 for a visit to a private hospital, plus meds. That may not sound like a lot to us, but the average income over here is less than $1 per day, so private care is pretty much impossible for the average Khmer.

Sao’s options were pretty limited…..
• Sit in the emergency room at the provincial hospital and hope to get treated
• Go to Calmet hospital in Phnom Penh, a 6 hour drive each way and get treated there
• Have the local village ‘doctor’ treat him with potions and herbs

I knew he’d had an accident, but had no idea of its severity until he came back to town on the 30th of January to try and get back to work. He’d sent some pictures of his leg to our compatriot, Asad in the US and Lisa McCoy, a Canadian working here in SE Asia.

I saw Sao about the same time Asad and Lisa saw the photos. We called a Western doctor working here in Siem Reap and he offered another ‘option’. The Royal Angkor International Hospital was opened a year or so ago. It was built by Thais and staffed by Thai doctors. We were told we could take Sao there but it would be VERY expensive. It’s of western standards and better than many I’ve seen in the US.

Let’s see …… we could send Sao to the local hospital where he might get some help, let him keep going to the local ‘doctor’ or spend a little of our own money and get him some good treatment…hmmmm

Pretty much a ‘no-brainer’.

Lisa and I took him to Angkor Int’l on the 30th. He was with the doctor a good 90 minutes. They cleaned and dressed the wound and gave him some meds to take. Then we got the bill! $80.81

We took him back to the hospital every day to have his dressing changed. He’s started calling it ‘The Happy Place.” Poor guy can hardly walk after they clean and dress his burn. On the 15th a nurse from Canada arrived to do some volunteer work and she’s cleaning the wound now and we’ve taught Sao how to change the dressing so he can go home and spend some time with his family.

All the treatments and all the meds have run just over $500. Pretty cheap by western standards, but way beyond the grasp of the average Cambodian citizen. Sao’s friends from around the world are chipping in to cover the costs. If we collect more than we’ve spent, we’ll donate the balance to his local school. If you want to help cover the costs go to: and click on the PayPal button. Drop me a note to let me know the donation is for the Sim Sao Recovery Fund.

I got a text message from Sao right after we started taking him to the hospital: ‘Bill, I am so happy. I’ve never had anyone help me before. Thank you all so much.’

How could we have done less?


Saturday, January 31, 2009

Corporate Greed and Eminent Domain in Cambodia - (And you thought it was bad at home!?)

There was a pretty nasty incident in Phnom Penh last weekend. And I don’t think it was covered much at all in the United States.

Over 150 families were forcibly evicted from their homes on land that had been sold to Korean construction company, 7NG According to their website:

The in-laws of a good friend of mine lost their home. They still have the title. It was signed by the Prime Minister himself.

Lot of good that did them. Read the story as reported by Amnesty International.

Hundreds left homeless in Cambodia after forced eviction
Over 150 poor urban families were forcibly evicted from central Phnom Penh in Cambodia at the weekend. The vast majority of them have been left homeless.

Cambodian security forces and demolition workers carried out the evictions of 152 families from Dey Kraham community in the early hours of Saturday. At around 3am, an estimated 250 police, military police and workers hired by the company claiming to own the land blocked access to the community before dispersing the population with tear gas and threats of violence.

At 6am, excavators moved in and levelled the village. Some of the families were not able to retrieve belongings from their homes before the demolition. Officials from Phnom Penh municipality were present during the destruction.

Amnesty International called on the Cambodian authorities to stop denying people the right to housing and to ensure adequate compensation and restitution for those evicted on Saturday.

"The most urgent task now is for the government to immediately address the humanitarian needs of these people, who have lost their homes and face imminent food and water shortages," said Brittis Edman, Cambodia researcher for Amnesty International. "They will also need assistance for a long time to come."

The Phnom Penh municipality has provided less than 30 of the 152 families with shelter at a designated resettlement site at Cham Chao commune in Dangkor district, some 16 kilometres from the city centre. Most of the other structures at the site are still under construction and lack roofs.

There is no clean water, no electricity, sewage or basic services. Earlier, most of the affected community rejected being resettled there because it was too far from Phnom Penh, where they work, mostly as street vendors.

Since the forced eviction, the Dey Kraham community has been told that the company, which is alleged to have purchased the land, has withdrawn earlier offers of compensation, leaving families who have been living in uncertainty and insecurity for more than two years, now faced with rebuilding their lives with nothing.

Local authority representatives sold the land to the company, 7NG, in 2005 without the knowledge, participation or consultation with the affected community. Some 300 families were coerced into moving amid threats, harassment and intimidation, while the 152 families continued to dispute the validity of the sale and refused to give up the land without compensation.

Just over a week before the forced eviction, the affected community told the authorities and the company that they were willing to move if they received adequate compensation for the land. Many of them have lived there, uncontested, for decades and have strong claims to the land under the 2001 Land Law. The company then increased the offer of compensation, but the two sides had not yet reached an agreement.

According to 7NG's website:
Through all of our efforts we are building futures for our stakeholders including the environment. Our Corporate Social Responsibility efforts and environmental planning are helping us to be both good neighbors and an environmentally responsible contractor.

As Master Builders we serve the needs of the people, and are happy to be a part of building a better Cambodia.

Sounds nice huh? Regardless of how bad things are at home, they are worse in other places.
Babu (in the Jungle)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ramblings from the Jungle

26 January

It’s been a pretty hectic 2 weeks here in Cambodia. I arrived on 10 January and I’ve already made 2 return trips to Phnom Penh…each one is 6 hours…or 10 depending on traffic and accidents….mostly ours. (I take a bus, and it’s big and the road is narrow.)

The weather is actually pretty decent. It’s winter over here so the humidity is down and the temperature in the mornings is actually pleasant…usually in the mid to high 70s. But by mid afternoon its been getting into the 80s with just a touch of the humidity that absolutely drops you later in the year.

I’ve been to the mine field twice. It is really amazing to see the differences between now and 2 years ago:

- in 2007 only Aki Ra cleard mines
- Now we have a 5 man team in the field

- in 2007 we cleared in flip flops and sandals
- Now we are equipped with the newest body armor available

- in 2007 new had to do everything very quietly since we were ‘uncertified’
- Now we have full government approval for our activities

The village we are clearing now is called Kokchumbok. It’s led a troubled existence in years past. A lot of fighting went on there, since it was a Vietnamese army camp. We’re clearing right next to their old firing range…lots of lead still laying around. They’ve lost several people. I spoke to a 34 year old woman whose mother was killed when she went behind a bush to use the toilet. The womans husband finally cleared a patch of land they can farm. He cleared it with a knife – on his hands and knees. Imagine.

Aki Ra and Team1 have been there for 3 months and expect to be there for 3 more before the field they identified is cleared of mines and UXOs. It’s grueling work. The area where the mines were laid is now dense jungle. I mean DENSE. You can’t walk into it. We start by cutting down the jungle brush so we can run a mine detector over the ground. (Last week Aki Ra saw his first ‘weed eater’. We bought one and if it works we’ll get another.) Once a mine or UXO is IDed we mark it and blow it up. Aki Ra doesn’t disarm the mines any more, it’s just too dangerous. He told me that every time he did that, he risked his life, and with a wife and 3 kids he doesn’t want to take that risk any more.

I talk to people all the time who want to know how they can help CSHD. There are 2 things we need:

1) We need people to be aware that the landmine problem still exists in Cambodia. Heck, most people can’t even find the country on a map, and the war has been over for 10 years. But there are still 5,000,000 mines and at least 5.000,000 unexploded bombs over here…just waiting for someone to find. We want that someone to be us, and not a farmer or some kid taking a shortcut home from school.

2) But most of all - We need money. Aki Ra thought it would take several years and $1,000,000 to start CSHD. With a lot of help, we did it in 8 months for less than $60,000.

But unless we can sustain it…pay our deminers and staff… we’ll have to fold our tent and go home. It costs us $5,000 to run the operation for a month. That pays salaries, feeds everyone in the field, pays for gas and supplies and leaves a little reserve for unexpected contingencies like blown tires and hidden logs in the rivers we cross that take out your radiator…but I digress.

That’s what we need. And every single dollar you donate saves life and limb. If you want to make a difference…this is where to do it.

I’ve spent the better part of a year and a half over here helping Aki Ra set this thing up. I’ve shut down my business and, thanks to today’s economy, run through a good deal of my savings. But Jill and I don’t regret a penny spent, a gray hair earned, or a moment not spent together. We can’t think of a better legacy to leave than a safer world for those who follow us.

If not now - when
If not us - who

Bill Morse
International Project Manager
Cambodian Self Help Demining

Founder & President
Landmine Relief Fund

Ps: And please pass this Blog on to your friends. Anybody know a movie star looking for a cause?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Inauguration Night in Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

On Tuesday the 20th, as I walked the streets of this small tourist haven in the north of Cambodia I was asked by several people, Americans, Euros,Japanese and Cambodians where they could watch “our president” take over the helm of the United States.

It was a surreal day. All over town the talk wasn’t of the growing economic crisis in this country, the lack of tourists, or the continuing friction with neighboring Thailand over the temple of Preah Vehear. It was about the hope and the expectations the world has for Barack Obama and the return of the United States to leadership in these trying times.

The inauguration happened at midnight here and I, along with at least 100 others gathered at the Warehouse Bar to watch the festivities. As Barack entered the stands a cheer went up, and when he took the oath of office you could people all over town cheering as hundreds gathered in different restaurants and bars to watch the vent.

You could hear a pin drop during his speech.

I’ve been traveling the world for several years now, from Peru to Nepal, Tahiti to Cambodia and it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to call myself an American and not have to defend my country. Today I can say I’m from the United States and people smile and tell me how happy they are that Obama is leading the world to a better time.

As I left the Warehouse at 1am, a tuk tuk driver came over and said “Obama is okay”.

Imagine that, people all over the world watching the US with hope and happiness instead of fear and loathing.

It was a good time to be an American.

I’ve waited my whole life for a time like this.

Babu in the jungle

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama is in Cambodia too

Siem Reap, Cambodia
8pm Tuesday, 20 January 2009

All day long I've been meeting Americans, Europeans, Japanese, Aussies and Khmers who want to know where they can watch the inauguration of 'our new president'. Last night I had dinner with some new friends from Brisbane and they told me about hope they have that Mr. Obama can lead America and the rest of the world to better times.

It's 4 hours until the inauguration. Several of the pubs in town are having Inauguration Parties. They start at 10. The inauguration is at midnight here and the parties will go until we all need to go home and get ready for work tomorrow. Several people I know rested up this evening for the parties.

I haven't met a person here who doesn't know who Obama is. One bar is selling kramas (the traditional Khmer scarfe) with Obamas likeness on it. T-shirts that say Obama are plentiful, and not just on Americans.

And I'm in Cambodia. Imagine.

It's been a long time since I've been able to say I'm an American and not have to defend my country. Everyone is so excited. Even with the problems the world faces. (It's pretty brutal here. Last January it was shoulder to shoulder tourists inside Angkor Wat. Today it's deserted. The tourists aren't coming and people are starting to get worrried.)

But as I said, even with the problems the world faces, economic woes, wars, etc., people are hopeful again and optimistic that maybe the worlds greatest democracy has found itself - at last.

Off to the Party of the Century

I'll let ya know how the inauguration was over here later.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bus Ride to the Jungle

4 days after leaving Palm Springs, and 30 hours in the air and in transit I’d decided to take the bus to my final destination and save almost $100. Heck, $100 paid 10 days in my hotel.

It was a very interesting bus trip…to say the least!

We left Phnom Penh at 0830 and were due to arrive in Siem Reap, Cambodia sometime around 1300 (1pm) Saturday afternoon. You’re never quite sure when you’ll arrive depending on the traffic. Now traffic here is a bit different than traffic in SoCal. Where the I-5 may be backed up because of a traffic accident or Caltrans work, Hiway 6 in Cambodia gets clogged when an oxcart or several turn over. It’s an hour by air, and a ‘scheduled’ 5 hours by bus.

The trip was pretty uneventful for the first few hours. We made our stop in Kompong Thom, a small town in central Cambodia, just north-east of the Tonley Sop lake. We got to stretch our legs, get something to eat, ice cream, crickets, spiders, or soup…whichever you prefer. Then we headed north for the last 2 hours of the trip.

About 1.5 hours south of Siem Reap I heard the tires screech and several people scream when we hit a man on a motor scooter…head on. I was in the back of the bus reading a book and couldn’t see out the front. Being on the right hand side of the bus, I did have a very good view of the poor guy careening off the side of the road. His moto ended up on top of him and the bus came to a lurching stop on the side of the road. The guy had been going down the wrong side of the road and tried to cut in front of the bus, I learned later.

Several of the riders and some locals ran to his aid, and amazingly he stood up and walked hesitantly away from the quite damaged motorbike he’d been riding. It appeared that he’d broken his arm and had a scalp wound, but otherwise he seemed okay. The locals lookied him over and immediately put him on another moto back to Kampong Thom where there is a medical clinic.

Then the interesting part of the trip started for the rest of us.

Our driver hopped off the bus pdq and as fast as he could ran down the road into the countryside and disappeared. Over here, when you are the drive and hit a local, you run the very good risk of getting the crud beat out of you by the victim’s friends.

So we were left by the side of the road, on a running bus with no driver. And when the local police showed up, who knows.

We got off the bus, and discussed among ourselves exactly how we should deal with the situation. We had several options. We could wait for the bus company to send another driver or, more likely, another bus to pick us up. Or we could try and ‘flag’ another ride. We opted for the latter.

A few minutes later we saw the ‘local’ bus coming up the road. That’s the one that stops at every village on the highway, but eventually got to our destination. He stopped and was only partly full. We dragged our bags off the first bus, stuffed them (pushing and kicking to make room) onto the local and climbed on board. It cost us an extra $2, a total of $13 to get to our destination.

Still beat the $100 by air.

Travel is such an adventure.

Babu in the jungle.