Imagine living in an area where unfamiliar metal objects would often be found in the jungle around your home. You did not know what these were and no-one in your community could explain these to you. You remember that once someone came to your village to talk about these, but they did not speak in your language so you did not underestand.
This was the situation in Tvin’s village in Ratanak Kiri, a remote province in the north-east of Cambodia. Located near the borders with Vietnam and Laos, from the late sixties until the mid seventies this area was the scene of aerial bombing to disrupt supply routes from north Vietnam to the south. The province is still heavily affected by explosive remnants of war, but community members had little understanding of what these were.
Lack of understanding of mine and unexploded ordnance – know as UXO – meant community members often unknowingly placed themselves at risk. “I was not familiar with explosives and we would walk through unknown fields which were high risk areas,” says Tvin. “People would use UXO for fishing, and it was especially dangerous when children found explosives and would play with it.” If community members discovered a piece of UXO in the forest, on their farms or in the village, they would do things like throw it in the water, put it on the fire or take it apart to sell as shrapnel.
Efforts of organisations such as Mine Action Group (MAG) were hindered by the ethnic diversity of the region. Ratanak Kiri is home to many ethnic minorities who do not speak Cambodia’s national language, Khmer. This is why MAG turned to CARE for support with ensuring even the most remote and marginalised communities are have access to knowledge that will literally save lives.
CARE trained Tvin as a Community Focal Point to educate people on the risks of UXO and how to deal with these should they find them. Tvin is ethnic Jarai and CARE’s experience working with ethnic minorities meant he could attend training in his own language. He learned how to recognise dangerous explosives, methods of reducing risks around these and how to share this with others in his village.
CARE provided simple picture cards to help Tvin share this information with others in his community. These have simple, visual messages which are easy for everyone to understand—even those who are unable to read. “When I went back to my village, I did awareness raising sessions and led smaller group discussions in our indigenous language Jarai. I was so pleased when participants listened to me, asked questions and shared their experiences.” Equipped with this new knowledge, those in Tvin’s village now know how to work on their land safely.
When villagers do find anything suspicious, they now stay a safe distance away and immediately report what they have found. Tvin has shared the phone number of MAG’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal team so everyone knows who to contact to have this safely removed. “When villagers find UXO, the MAG team can dispose of it, so the farmers can safely work the land. Once they report UXO to MAG they respond quickly.” As a Community Focal Point, Tvin also acts as MAG’s link with the community when they need more information. To further support this, CARE staff have been poised to provide assistance when language is a barrier.
Engaging local expertise and empowering people to educate their own communities has been vital to protecting these villages from harm. “On behalf of my community, I would convey how important safe land is for our community,” Tvin concludes. Providing information in their own language is literally saving lives for these remote and marginalised communities.