Mine clearance restores children’s dream of education

Kimleang, 12, reads a coursebook during a mathematics lesson in Tomnop primary school in Pailin province. This new school is nearer to her house, allowing her to come to school regularly. (Photo: Chansok Lay/UNDP Cambodia)

Pailin – In a normal progression, 12-year-old Kimleang should have been in Grade 5 already by now having started primary school in 2009. But she is still studying in Grade 3, falling two years behind.  

Problem? Not because of a weak learning ability or family's poor economic situation that held her back. It is the landmines – the deadly legacy of Cambodia’s past conflicts that continues to deny opportunities for rural children like her from getting proper education and pursuing their dreams.

Highlights

  • Clearing for Results Phase II is a five year US$26 million project. It receives support from the governments of Australia, Switzerland and Canada, United Kingdom, Austria and UNDP.
  • Since its start in 2011, the project has released a total of nearly 73 million square metres of land in rural communities in the three target provinces of Pailin, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey.
  • Some 11,890,073 square metres of land was released to local people in Pailin as of January 2015.

 “How could we allow any school to be built when we were not sure if the land was cleared of landmines?” Mr. Touch Teuk, deputy chief of Tomnop village asked.

In the absence of a school in the village at the time, Kimleang was forced to travel 10 kilometres to school on the other side of village – and the same distance on the way back home – every day. Her mother wanted her future to be different from that of her elder brothers’ and sisters’. But after one year of enrolment, Kimaleang’s school journey hit a snag. Because her family did not have a transport, her mother paid a male neighbour to drive her daughter along with his children on a motorcycle to the faraway school. One day the man just stopped sending his children to school, and Kimleang had no way of getting there on her own. Her study abruptly came to a halt.

Hers is just one of many similar stories of hardship endured by children living in Tomnop village. Daily torment in going to school had become too much to bear that many of them simply dropped out altogether to stay home or go to work in the cassava fields with their parents instead. 

 Grade 3 students in Tomnop primary school learnt in group during a Khmer literature lesson. The school was buildt on part of a former mine field that was released to the community in June 2013. (Photo: Chansok Lay/UNDP Cambodia)

While the lack of a school nearby had been a barrier to education, it was landmines hidden in the ground that caused the biggest problem.

Pailin province was a former battlefield during the conflict. It is one of the three provinces where UNDP has worked, in partnership with the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA), to clear landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). The other two are Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces. The current five-year Clearing for Results Phase II project has received US$26 million in funding from the governments of Australia, Switzerland and Canada, among others.

Since it began in 2011, the project has released a total of nearly 73 million square metres of land in the three provinces for various development purposes – agriculture, school, road, etc. In Pailin alone, nearly 12 million square metres of land were released to the local people as of January 2015.

In Tomnop village, a total of 514,940 square metres of land were cleared and 75 anti-personnel mines and 131 ERWs removed. This paved the way for a new school to be built on 22,282 square metres of land which was handed over to the local community in June 2013, through the coordination of the provincial mine action planning unit (MAPU). 

 Students leave school for home after their class ends. The school was built in 2013 after its compound had been cleared of landmines. (Photo: Chansok Lay/UNDP Cambodia)

Using funds raised from 85 people, including several Cambodian singers, the school was built and opened its doors to students in October 2013. One year before that, lessons were taught to the children in a classroom on the ground of front yard of a villager’s house. Bearing the name of Tomnop village, it now has four classrooms. Currently 119 students, 59 of whom are girls, are studying from Grade 1 to 4, and the school director plans to add Grades 5 and 6 in the coming years.

“There would have never been any school here had it not been for the mine clearance activities. Because no one would dare start building one until they were sure the ground was safe for the children,” Mr. Touch Teuk, the deputy village chief, said.

 “My children can now come to school easily and regularly because it is near my house,” Ms. Y Oeurn, 32, said. “Before, they often missed classes because it was far away and I did not have transport to take them there,” she said.

Kimleang’s dream has now been revived. Even though it is still a long way off to the steps to becoming a doctor, but Kimleang said she was determined to pursue her dream.

“I don’t want to be like my parents working in the field. It is a hard job,” she said during a class break. “I want to be a doctor so that I can help my parents, my siblings and the villagers when they are sick.”

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