Friday, April 3, 2015

Children leading the way in mine risk education in Cambodia

by Chhaya Plong

© UNICEF/2014/Chhaya Plong
Vanna Sreymom, 17, (right) and her peer give a mine risk education lesson to students at Grand 4 in Chisang Primary School, Battambang province.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, 4 April 2015 – My country, Cambodia, endured a long conflict in the recent past. Although the war has ended, we are still living with its consequences.

One of them is represented by landmines and other explosive weapons, which still litter our land decades after the violence ended. In 2013, 111 people were victims of these weapons, 23 of them children. As my country rebuilds itself, we are working to clear these weapons, keep our people safe, and provide assistance to those who have been affected by these explosives. UNICEF supports these efforts by implementing school mine risk education programmes; training teachers and government workers on how to help prevent incidents; providing learning materials; and helping local organizations to assist victims with disabilities.

And this is paying off: from 2012 to 2013, we saw a 40 per cent decrease in overall casualties and a 62 per cent decrease in child casualties. This success is owed, in part, to our children who have joined these efforts.

Meet 17-year-old Vanna Sreymom: she studies at Chisang Primary School in Battambang Province, a part of our country that is heavily contaminated with landmines and other weapons. Her father was killed by an explosive weapon in April 2012, only about 350 meters (0.2 miles) from their house. Afterwards, her mother, a farmer, could hardly afford to buy food for Sreymom and her other two children. Their family is still struggling but Sreymom is taking action so that other families don’t have to endure the same grim fate.

Sreymom is a peer mine risk education leader at her school. Together with other students, she teaches her schoolmates about landmines and other weapons: how to identify them and how to stay safe. She also offers the same type of teaching to new community members, when they settle in her village. Today over 9,000 children have a greater understanding of the risks posed by mines and other explosive weapons, thanks to the work done by Sreymom, other children like her, as well as  hundreds of teachers trained on mine risk education.

Sreymom is still mourning the loss of her father but, as she continues her studies, she is actively working to protect other children and their families. It’s students like Sreymom who are rebuilding our country and helping us move beyond the legacy of war. On the 4th of April we celebrate the International Day for Mine Awareness: we would like to express our gratitude to Sreymon and all the people who, like her, work so hard to make this country safer for everyone.

Chhaya Plong is a UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, working on Mine Risk Education, Victim Assistance, Disability Prevention and other Child Protection work. He is motivated to work in this area because his brother was killed by a landmine in 1993.

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