|Born||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|
Aki Ra is unsure of his age, but believes he was born in 1973. His parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge. Orphaned in a Khmer Rouge camp, he was taken in by a woman named Yourn who raised him and several other orphaned children. He. like many others, soon became a child soldier once his strength became sufficient to make him useful to local Khmer military commanders. When the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia with the intention of toppling the dominant political regime formed by Khmer Rouge forces, he was formally conscripted by the Khmer around 10 years of age. He was sent into battle against the invading Vietnamese but was soon captured.
Aki Ra fought for the Khmer Rouge, no doubt fearing the same fate his parents did under the tyranny of Pol Pot. Upon his capture in 1983 by the invading Vietnamese army, he was given a choice to fight the Khmer Rouge as a soldier in the Viet-Cong Army, or be killed as a Khmer supporter. He chose the former option naturally. Then, with their return to Vietnam precipitating his release, the need for food and shelter soon found him enlisting with the army formed by the new government of Cambodia.
However he began to resent how even they soon were asking that he again fight and kill fellow Cambodians. This insult led him to re-evaluate a life spent killing and dying. That led him to try and vanquish the demons of his past by dedicating himself to making an all-out effort to disarm and remove some of the millions of landmines he helped to arm earlier in life. 04:51, 28 March 2014 (UTC)
Having no demining tools, he used a knife, a Leatherman and a stick. He would defuse the landmines and UXOs he found in small villages and bring home the empty casings. Sometimes he would sell them as scrap to help fund his work.
Tourists began hearing stories about a young Khmer man who cleared landmines with a stick and had a house full of defused ordnance. Aki Ra began charging a dollar to see his collection, using the money to help further his activities. Thus began the Cambodia Landmine Museum.
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.
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 had brought home over 2 dozen boys and girls.
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 Battambong, west of Siem Reap when he found the explosive that had probably lain undisturbed in the field for 25 years. 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. Some are landmine victims, some were born without limbs, some are polio victims, one is HIV-positive, some are orphans and some have parents who cannot afford to raise them. Hourt and Aki Ra feed them, clothe them, and send them to school.
Cambodian Self Help Demining
In order to open his new museum, Aki Ra was required to cease his 'uncertified' demining activities in 2007. 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 established a new NGO, Cambodian Self Help Demining (CSHD). It is certified by the Cambodian Mine Action Authority. The Landmine Relief Fund has had a representative in the country working with CSHD.
CSHD’s charter is to clear small villages, areas that it considers ‘low priority’. 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 killing them in prior years. It did it for an average cost of USD$ 4,314 per month.
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.
A movie about Aki Ra's life has been made. A Perfect Soldier, the movie representing Aki Ra's life, was released in 2010.
In July 2010 Aki Ra was selected as a CNN Hero. In September he was chosen as a Top 10 CNN Hero for 2010.
Aki Ra’s wife Hourt died on 15 April 2009. She had been ill and died in her sleep. She was 28 years old. Mae Yourn (Mother Yourn), who lived and worked at the Cambodia Landmine Museum, died at the age of 66 in April 2010 from complications from diabetes.