Landmines leftover in war-torn countries such as Cambodia cause innumerable injuries and deaths each year, often with little to no government support for clean-up or support of the victims. However, one Cambodian man’s demining efforts have grown into an educational and inspiring center that not only tells the history of the deadly leftovers but also works to care for those most affected by their violence: children.
As a former member of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodian-born Aki Ra, was no stranger to landmines, having placed thousands of them himself. However when the Khmer regime fell Ra used his knowledge to help heal the country by working with the UN as a demining specialist. After working with the UN force for only a year Ra returned to his small village community and began disarming mines in his home area using little more than a stick and a multi-tool. Soon word spread of not only his quest, but of the collection of decommissioned ordinance he was amassing. Ra began traveling from village to village either picking up landmines he himself had laid or answering the pleas of communities that had found or detonated their own. While some of the mines were sold for scrap to fund his humanitarian efforts, he personally kept a number of them. As interest in Ra’s collection grew among foreign visitors, the idea for the Cambodian Landmine Museum was born.
At first, the museum was simply a tour of his personal collection, but as it grew, in size and popularity the museum was finally established in 1997. Unfortunately, the Cambodian government almost immediately ordered it shut down, so Ra simply moved it to a national park and created a brand new NGO (non-governmental organization) under which the museum could operate.
Today the museum has grown to include displays of Ra’s collected landmines as well as exhibits on the wars that left them including sinister-looking mannequins. In addition to the museum displays, Ra began taking in children injured or orphaned by the landmines he was collecting among the villages, giving them a shelter and a future. This side of the museum has even been expanded to include children who simply have emotional or familial problems. Currently there are dozens of children being housed, fed, and educated by the center, which is an impressive feat for a museum that began with clean-up duty.
Know Before You Go
Approximately 25 km north of Siem Reap (30 minutes by tuk tuk), and 7km south of the Banteay Srey Temple complex in Angkor National Park