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.