I am re posting this at the kind suggestion of Ozarksparks and Dragon5616 in dragons fun and informative diary yesterday.
The story of Aki Ra and his one man determination to rid Cambodia of land mines is unbelievable. It is the Heroism of one man with little more than a pocket knife and a stick dedicating to making his country safe from these horrid devices.
We call many heroes and we often give credit to those who sponsor organizations and legislation to help get rid of these killers in the ground after a war but rarely do we hear of an individual who is as determined and some would say crazy to do this on his own, with little equipment or support.
"I poke my stick in the ground till I find a mine.
Then I dig around it, to make sure that it is not booby-trapped.
Then, I unscrew the detonator. And the mine is safe."
I stumbled upon this today at a site called Bad Ass of the Week expecting a short blurb about someone who de-armed a mine, not the inspiring story of Aka Ra and how one man who spent 30 years in conscripted armies (the Khmer rouge after his parents were killed with their axes, the Vietnamese and then the Cambodian)laying mines throughout the country and then jumped at the chance to learn how to deactivate them and went on a one man army to do just that.
From Wiki we discover not only does he do that, but he also works to save children in trouble and need.
Aki Ra is a former Khmer Rouge conscripted child soldier who worked as a deminer and museum curator in Siem Reap, Cambodia. He and his wife Hourt brought home nearly 20 disadvantaged children."I only take the worst kids ... The ones on glue or yaba (methamphetamine), with no families. They get caught stealing. They have trouble with the authorities. The police beat them. Some of them were living in the streets, begging." They provide these children with an education and family atmosphere. From 1993 to 2007, Aki Ra removed landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) by hand in Cambodia. He employs very unusual demining techniques, usually working only with a knife and a sharp stick.
Now Wiki explains it rather blandly, so I will use Bad ass as the main source for this because the creator has put his actions into the words that deserve them.
by the time the United Nations rolled into Cambodia in 1994 Aki Ra was getting pretty tired of blowing people up and turning his own countryside into one massive cascading explosion. So, when the UN decided to start giving people training in how to safely and effectively remove land mines, Aki Ra jumped at the chance to atone for his previous work and start undoing everything he'd been working on for the past two decades. He accomplished this in a pretty damned spectacular manner:
"I will do anything to make my country safe. Sometimes I get nervous, but that is rare.
In 20 years I've never been injured."
The UN trained Aki in the proper application of protective bomb-proof armor, mine detector operation, and sweep-and-clear removal processes for dealing with dense fields of high explosives, but when those guys left town, Aki realized he didn't have very much in the way of money or equipment. Still, this unstoppable powerhouse of mine-clearing insanity wasn't going to be deterred from accomplishing his new found goal in life simply by something as stupid as "not having access to the sort of mine sweeping gear you need in order to not die while removing mines", and just decided to go out and start digging anti-personnel grenades out of the ground with a shovel and jamming sticks in them until they stopped being capable of blowing his arm completely out of socket and depositing the charred appendage in the South China Sea.
The head-smashing ridiculousness of what this guy is doing is only further demonstrated by the fact that this human bomb-clearing robot can dig out, clear, and defuse a standard land mine in about two minutes – a process that usually takes the United Nations bomb teams something more on the order of one to two hours.
Anyone who has visited the wonderful Temples of Angkor Wat have Aki Ra to thank. He single handledly cleared them of landmines so people could worship or visit and as one of Cambodia's major tourist attractions so should his government, who at the time instead harassed him for his work.
After the temples were dearmed he went on to local playgrounds and farmlands. Places that no one could farm thanks to the mines and children could not play and survive unless they wanted to take a high percent chance that they would be blown up.
Thanks in no small part to the work of this one man, the number of accidental landmine casualties in Cambodia dropped from 3,047 to 1,109 in the three-year span from 1996 to 1999.
Eventually Aki Ra had removed so many landmines that his house was overflowing with the shit, so in 1998 he opened the Cambodian Landmine Museum as a place to displace the unexploded ordinance and educate people on how much landmines seriously suck balls. The place is now a registered NGO, and Aki spends less time personally removing mines and more time training everyone from local villagers to Cambodian Army soldiers in his insane, completely-unlicensed and largely-unapproved-by-any-rational-human-being strategy of digging up and disarming mines with his fists. He now has a team of over 1,000 people working in de-mining operations across the country, and claims that in the 16 years he has been on the job he's personally removed and cleared over 50,000 mines by himself.
Now back to Wiki, they explain the difficulties he had to overcome to set up his museum
A new Museum was opened in 2007 thanks to the fund raising efforts of the Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief Fund. In order to secure certification for Cambodia's only landmine museum, Aki Ra was required to cease his 'uncertified' demining activities. He did so in early 2007. Since that time he has been attempting to register a new NGO, Cambodian Self Help Demining (CSHD), and have it certified by the Cambodian Mine Action Authority. The Landmine Relief Fund has had a representative in the country since January 2008 working to secure registration and certification.
CSHD became a registered Cambodian NGO in May 2008 and secured its provisional demining certificate in June, and was fully certified in November 2008. Aki Ra has re-started his demining efforts, concentrating on 'low priority' villages throughout the Kingdom.
Sadly his wife died last April in her sleep from illness. Yet he continues to work on stripping Cambodia from its active mines and there is a movie being made about his life : "Year Zero, Story of a Khmer Rouge Soldier"
I apologize for the lack of analysis in this but sometimes you find a depiction and story that says it so much better than you could yourself it seems wrong to not allow that to be the words people read.
There is much more at the sites I linked as well as here, with the story he relates:
Child Soldier digs up the past to save lives in the future. NZ Herald
He laughs at the mention of protective shoes and jackets. But when he talks about his charges - the Bouncing Bettys, the remote-controlled Mon 50s and the Type 72s - it is with an enthusiasm bordering on affection.
"I will do anything to make my country safe," he says. "Sometimes I get nervous, but that is rare. In 20 years I've never been injured."
His friend Am might beg to differ. He lost his years ago when he stepped on a Type 72. He has since stepped on six more mines, but each time the wooden leg is blown off. "But that was before he met me," Aki Ra says with a grin as he prises TNT away from a Russian PMN mine.
Another link has the story of one his "children":
"Seven years ago I was playing, digging in the woods, when I hit a mortar bomb," Em says, explaining the accident that took his arm. "The hospital didn't want to help me because my family had no money."
These days Em lives at the Cambodian Landmine Museum in Siem Reap along with 20 or so other children, all survivors of landmine accidents. Under the fatherly gaze of Cambodian demining legend Aki Ra, the children, all of them from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds, many of them orphans, receive health care and rehabilitation, a place to live and schooling, and a chance to escape the dangerous prospects of Cambodia's landmine-strewn countryside.
Here is his Official Site of the Cambodia Land Mine Museum
Update: I can't tell if the whole short film is here, but it looks like it, at least the trailer is for sure. (i cant watch video)
Year Zero documentary