Wednesday, July 22, 2015

UNICEF helps children victim of Explosive Remnants of War go back to school

By Plong Chhaya and Martina Tomassini

©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Plong Chhaya
Vong Touch, 16, plays with his classmates during their break at Pang Rolim Secondary School.
PAILIN, Cambodia, 22 July 2015 – Sixteen-year-old Vong Touch is an Explosive Remnant of War (ERW) survivor who lives with his widow mother and three siblings in a small wooden house in the post-conflict area of Au Reang village, in Pailin province. Located along the border between Cambodia and Thailand, Pailin is the second highest landmine and ERW-contaminated area in the country. The plot of land that Touch’s family rents for their house was cleared by the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) in 2012.

Touch and his family are originally from Prey Veng province, in the south of Cambodia. In 2013, two years after Touch’s father passed away, his family was forced to move out of their home because of a debt they could not pay off. His mother, Path Nuon, had borrowed around $2,000 from a neighbour to pay for medical treatment when Touch’s father got sick and had to be hospitalized for about two months.

©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Plong Chhaya
16-year old Vong Touch and his mother in front of their house in the post-conflict area of Au Reang village, Pailin province.

“Since my two brothers were arrested in May 2013 for illegal logging, I have to help my mother with work in the morning and go to school in the afternoon. We earn around 20,000 Riels per day (equal to $5) by clearing weeds in crop fields and fertilizing cassava.

©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Plong Chhaya
Vong Touch, 16, clears weeds in a cassava field 7 kilometres from their house in Pailin province.

“2014 was a very difficult year for me and my mum because we could not find any work. That was the time I decided to take a risk and hunt animals in the mountains, just about 3 kilometers from my house. I was hoping to sell wild animals so that I could buy rice and school supplies. One day, I accidentally stepped on a booby trap [improvised landmine] in an area where Explosive Remnants of War are used to kill wild animals. I heard an explosion and lost consciousness. When I reopened my eyes I was at the hospital with my mum sitting next to me and crying. My left hand and my body could not move and I was very sad,” recalls Touch.

Touch’s mother adds, “My son was rescued by a hunter who lives nearby. When I saw my child’s body covered with blood I shouted for help and I passed out. I felt hopeless: I just didn’t want to live any more if his life could not be saved. Luckily, he received first aid treatment by a demining medical worker, who heard the explosion while he was clearing mines nearby, and was immediately transported to the emergency hospital in Battambang province, about 27 kilometres away. It was the most terrifying day of my life!”

After the accident, Touch had to be hospitalized for one week and dropped out of school for three months. During this time he would have nightmares and wake up at night, shouting for help. Now he still complains of abdominal pain when the weather is cold or when he walks for a few kilometres.

“I wanted my son to continue his studies immediately after the accident but I could not even afford to make enough money to buy him food,” explains Noun.

NGO Operation Enfant de Battambang (OEC), a UNICEF partner, was able to provide support: they advocated for Touch’s reintegration to school, provided his mother with emergency food assistance and trained her how to farm chickens and set up a vegetable garden as part of a UNICEF-supported income generation and victim assistance scheme.

©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Plong Chhaya
Vong Touch, 16, studies at Pang Rolim Secondary School, where he was reintegrated after dropping out because of his ERW accident.

In 2014, over 150 people were affected by the explosion of ERWs and landmines across Cambodia – 22 of them in Pailin. This year alone, OEC has so far provided victim assistance to 25 children living with disabilities in the province, and to their families.

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