Wednesday, May 29, 2013

15 year old adjusts to life after a landmine accident

15 year old Thnot has learned to live with a prosthetic limb.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Plong Chhaya
Fifteen year old Ny Thnot vividly remembers the day he lost a limb five years ago. It happened on a September morning in 2008 while he was out herding his family’s cows just 3 kilometres from his home in Battambang, northeast Cambodia. Having taken a moment to play with friends he noticed that two of the cows were grazing in an area with mine warning signs. “My teacher had taught me not to go where [there were] signs but I was afraid of losing the cows and being punished by my parents, so I took a risk to chase them hoping that it would not be a problem because the cows were okay. I went to run after them and then fell onto an anti-personnel mine. It immediately exploded.”

Thnot lost the lower half of his right arm and severely injured his right leg. He says there are still some fragments of the mine in his leg. “The accident changed my life” says Thnot. “I used to be a top student and enjoyed sports but I had to repeat classes. I am now in grade 5. If I hadn’t had the accident, I would have been in grade 7.”

One of the highest rates of landmine casualties in the world
Cambodia has one of the highest rates of landmine casualties in the world a legacy of three decades of internal and regional civil conflicts. From 1997 to September 2012, more than 64,000 people have been injured or kill by landmines and Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). Of these, about 40,000 are amputees. An estimated 25 per cent of the casualties are children. UNICEF, with funding from the German Committee for UNICEF, is working with the Royal Government of Cambodia and NGOs to strengthen the country’s social welfare system to support children with disabilities and enable them to access appropriate services especially in remote areas.

Thnot benefited from this partnership following the mine explosion. He was rescued by local authorities who sent him by motorbike to the referral hospital in Rattanak Mondul district, about 5 kilometres away. There, the NGO Operation Enfant Du Cambodge (OEC) arranged his transport to the main emergency hospital in Battambang for surgery.

Thnot’s father, Khan Phany, who was cutting wood for charcoal production heard the explosion that wounded his son. “I thought it was a controlled demolition by the de-mining organization called the Cambodian Mine Action Centre as they do it every day,” he says, “50 minutes later, I arrived home and I saw many villagers were at my house. My wife ran to me and said our son was seriously injured. I have seen many victims before in my village but it was totally different when it happened to my lovely son.”

Thnot rides to school on a bicycle provided with UNICEF support.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Plong Chhaya
Thnot spent three weeks in hospital. After he was discharged, his follow-up visits at the Battambang Physical Rehabilitation Centre for the fitting of a prosthetic limb were made possible with UNICEF support and funding from the German Committee for UNICEF.

Learning to manage daily activitiesKhan Phany explains how the family was assisted to provide support to Thnot. “We were trained on how to help him to use his prosthetic limb and regain his mobility by OEC staff as part of their home-based physical rehabilitation. Now he can go to school by bicycle provided by OEC and he can manage his daily activities by himself, but he has headaches very often and his right leg is painful when the weather is cold, especially in the rainy season.”

Following his accident and recovery, Thnot missed school for three months and wanted to drop out completely. He did not think that he could catch up with his classmates or play with them, however, six months of home-based education provided by OEC staff encouraged him to return to school and he now aspires to a career in education. “My favorite subject is Khmer language and I want to be a teacher when I grow up,” says Thnot. His school friend Rotha is glad Thnot returned. “I have been [his] friend for 5 years and I am surprised that he can ride a bicycle with his prosthetic limb…I am sad, as we lost the fastest runner for our school [but] I am very happy to see him back at school.”

By Chhaya Plong