Aki Ra

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Aki Ra
Aki ra.jpg
Aki Ra
Born Eoun Yeak
unknown (c. 1973)
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Occupation Landmine campaigner, museum curator, director of all-Khmer de-mining NGO
Spouse(s) Hourt (deceased, April 15, 2009)
Children Amatak, Mine, Metta
Parents deceased

Aki Ra (sometimes written Akira) is a former Khmer Rouge conscripted child soldier who works as a deminer and museum curator in Siem Reap, Cambodia. He has devoted his life to removing landmines in Cambodia and to caring for young landmine victims. Aki Ra states that since 1992 he has personally removed and destroyed as many as 50,000 landmines.[1]

Early life[edit]

Aki Ra is unsure of his age, but believes he was born in 1970[2] or 1973.[3][4] His parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge.[5] Orphaned in a Khmer Rouge camp, he was taken in by a woman named Yourn who raised him and several other orphaned children. Like many others, he soon became a child soldier once his strength became sufficient to make him useful to local Khmer Rouge military commanders.[6] When the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia with the intention of toppling the Khmer Rouge political regime, he was taken into the custody of Vietnamese soldiers.[7] Later he enlisted with the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Armed Forces formed by the new government, the People's Republic of Kampuchea. His duties included placing landmines along the mined area on Cambodia's border with Thailand.[3]

The name "Aki Ra" was given to him by a Japanese acquaintance and is not his birth name. He was born Eoun Yeak, but one of his supervisors once compared his efficiency to AKIRA, a heavy-duty appliance company in Japan.[6][8]

Landmine clearing[edit]

Having laid thousands of landmines as a soldier, Aki Ra found employment as a deminer with the UN in 1991.[9] After leaving UNMAS in 1992, he continued disarming and removing mines in his community. Having no demining tools, he used a knife, a hoe, a Leatherman and a stick.[10] He would defuse the landmines and UXOs (Unexploded Ordnance) he found in small villages and bring home the empty casings. Sometimes he would sell them as scrap to help fund his work.[11]

Tourists began hearing stories about a young Khmer man who cleared landmines with a stick and had a house full of defused ordnance.[12] in 1999 Aki Ra began charging a dollar to see his collection, using the money to help further his activities.[13] Thus began the Cambodian Landmine Museum.[14]

Aki Ra cleared landmines where he had fought, when he heard about an accident, or when village chiefs and farmers would call him at the museum and tell him of mines in their villages and ask for his help.[15] He conducted informal mine risk education groups to teach people about the dangers of unexploded ordnance and landmines.[11]

Adopted children[edit]

While working in these villages he found many injured and abandoned children. He brought them home to live with him and his wife Hourt. Some of the children who moved to their home were also street kids from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Eventually he brought home over two dozen boys and girls.[9]

In early 2009, a boy came to live with Aki Ra and Hourt who had lost an arm and most of a hand to a cluster munition. He was working with his uncle in a field near Battambang, west of Siem Reap when he found an explosive probably left over from the Cambodian Civil War. Aki Ra found him in the hospital and told his family about the Museum. He now lives there and attends school. Today, 29 children live at the Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief Center.[6] In the past they were mainly landmine victims, but now they also include children born without limbs, polio victims, and some with HIV; some are orphans and some have parents who cannot afford to raise them.[16] Funds from the museum are entirely dedicated to the support of these children to feed them, clothe them, and send them to school.

Cambodian Self Help Demining[edit]

Cambodian government authorities soon tried to close down the museum, and Aki Ra was required to cease his 'uncertified' demining activities after being briefly imprisoned in 2001[17] and again in 2006.[18] In 2005 he went to London where he was trained on ordnance disposal from the International School of Security and Explosives Education. In 2008 with the help of the Landmine Relief Fund, an American charity, and the Vietnam Veterans Mine Clearing Team – Cambodia, an Australian veterans group, he obtained full certification as a deminer and established a new NGO, Cambodian Self Help Demining (CSHD).[19][2] It is certified by the Cambodian Mine Action Authority which also regularly inspects ordnance displayed in the museum. The Landmine Relief Fund has had a representative in the country working with CSHD. Generous support has also been provided by film producer Richard Fitoussi[20] and film director Tom Shadyac.[21]

The Landmine Museum was relocated and reopened in 2008.[22][16]

CSHD’s charter is to clear small villages, areas considered "low priority" for other international demining organizations, who are busy in "high priority" areas. In its first year of activity CSHD cleared 163,000 square meters of land and put over 2,400 people back on land that had been too dangerous to farm or live on. CSHD did this for an average cost of USD$ 4,314 per month.[23]

CSHD is funded primarily by its American and Australian partners, the Landmine Relief Fund and the Vietnam Veterans Mine Clearing Team – Cambodia. In 2009 the United States Department of State, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement granted the Landmine Relief Fund US$100,000 to help CSHD in their work to clear ERW (Explosive remnants of war) in "low priority villages" in Cambodia. Ongoing funding is uncertain as CSHD must compete with larger demining NGOs such as Mines Advisory Group and Halo Trust.

Recognition[edit]

In 2005 the book Children and the Akira Landmines Museum was published in Japanese, listing Aki Ra as the principle author.[24][4]

The documentary film A Perfect Soldier, describing Aki Ra's life, was released in 2010.[25][26]

In July 2010 Aki Ra was selected as a CNN Hero.[27] In September he was chosen as a Top 10 CNN Hero for 2010.[28]

On August 12, 2012 Aki Ra was honored by the Manhae Foundation in South Korea with the 2012 Manhae Foundation Grand Prize for Peace.[29][30] In February 2013 Aki Ra received the Paul P. Harris Fellowship for peace and conflict resolution from the Rotary Club of Gravenhurst, Ontario.[31]

Personal life[edit]

Aki Ra’s wife Hourt died on 15 April 2009 of complications related to a miscarriage.[32] She was 28 years old. Hourt and Aki Ra have three children: Amatak, Mine, and Metta.

Mae Yourn (Mother Yourn), who lived and worked at the Cambodian Landmine Museum,[33] died at the age of 66 in April 2010 from complications of diabetes.

The documentary film A Perfect Soldier implies that Aki Ra has suffered psychological problems, including depression, mood swings, nightmares and anxiety, as a result of his traumatic experiences as a soldier.[25]

Several sources state that Aki Ra has had health problems due to his chronic, repeated exposure to explosive chemicals such as TNT and RDX.[4][15][34]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Life of the Land, Time Magazine, 31. Oktober 2013
  2. ^ a b Charlie Campbell, "Life of the Land: A Former Child Soldier Makes Cambodia Safe," Time Magazine, 31 Oct 2013.
  3. ^ a b Aki Ra, "The Story of My Life."
  4. ^ a b c Shibata Yukinori, "Book Review: Children and the Aki Ra Landmines Museum," Bulletin of the Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo, no. 129:129.3.
  5. ^ "Digging up the past: Legendary Cambodian deminer Aki Ra continues to build Cambodia's future by digging up its past," FCC Cambodia monthly newsletter, July 2007.
  6. ^ a b c Ebonne Ruffins, "Cambodian man clears land mines he set decades ago," CNN July 30, 2010.
  7. ^ Mark Jenkins, "Cambodia's Healing Fields: Land mines once crippled a war-ravaged Cambodia. Today the nation is a model for how to recover from this scourge," National Geographic, January 2012.
  8. ^ Kyle Ellison, "A step inside the Cambodian Landmine Museum," Dec 23rd 2011.
  9. ^ a b Antonio Graceffo, "Aki Ra and Landmine Museum," Mekong.net, 22 May 2008.
  10. ^ "The Incredible Journey of Aki Ra, Former Child Soldier," Asia Society, Hong Kong, October 13, 2009.
  11. ^ a b Meghan Wallace, "Hero Profile: Aki Ra," Journal of ERW and Mine Action, issue 14.3, fall 2010.
  12. ^ Terry Hodgkinson, "Aki Ra's Landmine Museum," (video) 30 Oct 2011
  13. ^ "Aki Ra's Cambodia Landmine Museum," Going Slowly, posted Nov 2011.
  14. ^ Julie Stern and Megan Hinton, "Landmine Museums Encourage Remembrance and Education," Journal of ERW and Mine Action, issue 18.1, spring 2014.
  15. ^ a b Matthew Smeal, "Cambodia's slow recovery from Khmer Rouge," Eureka Street, Volume 16 No.17, 13 November 2006.
  16. ^ a b William Morse, "Cambodia Landmine Museum."
  17. ^ Dan Eaton, "Mad About Mines," Time Magazine, 26 Feb 2001.
  18. ^ Nicky Sullivan, "From the good life to digging up land mines in Cambodia: Bill Morse chose to move to Cambodia to help activist Aki Ra rid the country of landmines." Christian Science Monitor, 1 Jun 2012.
  19. ^ Cambodian Self-Help Demining Website
  20. ^ "Canadian filmmaker documents horrors of landmines," CTV News, 4 April 2012.
  21. ^ Josh Peace
  22. ^ Andy Brouwer, "Aki Ra Coming Out of Retirement," 14 April 2007.
  23. ^ CSHD Facebook Page
  24. ^ Aki Ra, Children and the Akira Landmines Museum, Books Sanseido, 2005.
  25. ^ a b A Perfect Soldier, full documentary (50 min).
  26. ^ Jill Gaeta, "Review of Documentary A Perfect Soldier by John Severson,".The Middle Ground Journal, Number 6, Spring, 2013.
  27. ^ " CNN Hero Aki Ra Disarms Land Mines In Cambodia He Placed Decades Earlier." Posted: 07/30/10
  28. ^ CNN Heroes Archive: Aki Ra
  29. ^ "Aki Ra awarded the Manhae Peace Prize."
  30. ^ "Aki Ra Wins Grand Peace Prize," Peace Works, 28 Aug 2012.
  31. ^ Alistair Walsh, "Canadian Rotarians honour Aki Ra for peace work," Phnom Penh Post, 8 February 2013.
  32. ^ Anthony C. LoBaido, "Repairing war damage: Soldiers who care Ex-Khmer Rouge child fighter digs up mines to make his country safe." WorldNet Daily, 28 July 2009.
  33. ^ Cambodia Landmine Museum
  34. ^ "Volunteering at the Land Mine Museum...where do i start?" Scottie Abroad, 13 September 2006.

External links[edit]