Feelgood Fridays, how much can one man do to heal Cambodia?

After my post about Tuol Sleng, a friend asked “Did you find yourself looking at Cambodians of a certain age differently after visiting those sites? I found myself wondering what side people were on. And wondered how on earth you manage to put a population back together again after something like that.”Cambodian elder


The answer is yes. Or rather, yesses. I did find myself wondering about people’s past in the Khmer Rouge years, and was stunned by both the challenge, and apparent success that the country has had, in healing from such astonishing trauma. But one does not just ask “So, were you one of the victims, or one of the murderers?” Besides, as with nearly all of human existence, that dichotomy is false. Things are much more complicated than that.


Take Aki Ra. On paper, you could read that he was part of the Khmer Rouge, and planted an unknown number of landmines, the same mines that are still killing and maiming Cambodians today. Bad guy?


But Aki Ra was a child soldier, a 10 year old forced by the Khmer Rouge to do these things. Some might say that deeds are deeds, and karma is karma, but I challenge anyone to blame a 10 year old, whose family was just murdered, to stand up against armed thugs with the blood of millions on their hands.


But perhaps the more interesting part of the question, the “How do you put a country back together?”, focuses on what people did after the war. What did Aki Ra do?


I can't imagine looking for landmines in a jungle like this.

I can’t imagine looking for landmines in a jungle like this, which we found near Chi Phat

Landmines. Only now, removing them instead of planting them. I would think mine removal would be more difficult than installation, so how much can one man do?


How about 50,000 mines?


There’s a problem with modern reality, in that any number over a couple hundred is basically unimaginable, in a real sense. 50,000 land mines. I try to picture them, spread out on a football field, and the stadium of people whose lives and limbs he has saved, but I’m not sure my imagination can really suffice for understanding what this man has done, to help his country, to help his people, to heal this planet.


He is clearly a hero, and fortunately, CNN agrees. (Watch the video here.)


And just in case his bravery and dedication are not enough? Aki Ra has founded an orphanage to care for children who have lost their parents to these mines. He is one man, making an incredible difference.

(This is the first of my Feelgood Fridays posts. Looking for positive things to talk about is a pleasure, but if you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them. Share the joy, no?

And thank you to Lydia for bringing Aki Ra to my attention.)