|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 the Khmer Rouge camp, he was taken in by a woman named Yourn who raised him and several other orphaned children until he was conscripted into the Khmer Rouge army at about 10 years of age.
Aki Ra fought for the Khmer Rouge until 1983 when he was captured by the Vietnamese. He was conscripted into the Vietnamese army on threat of his life while still a boy. He later served with the Cambodian army as a teenager and still later received landmine clearance training with the United Nations.
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.