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?

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