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Mary Van Verst
In June Tun Channareth, an internationally renowned advocate for a ban on landmines and co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, came to Seattle from Cambodia to receive an honorary graduate degree from Seattle University. During his stay, Channareth spoke to a variety of groups, and offered a private conversation with members of ASPA’s Evergreen Chapter.
Channareth was a resistance soldier near the Thai-Cambodian border in 1982 when an explosion took his legs, but ultimately connected him to humanitarian work that transformed his life and helped others. After both his legs were amputated, Channareth spent 13 years at a Thai refugee camp, where he received vocational training. Then he returned to Cambodia to begin making affordable wheelchairs for landmine survivors.
“The suffering never stops,” Channareth told Seattle Times reporter, Jack Broom. He added that one of every 230 people in his country is an amputee, the bulk of their injuries caused by land mines left over from decades of civil war and incursions by foreign military.
Channareth is devoted to the message that as many as 5 million land mines and other undetonated explosives remain in Cambodia alone, many capable of killing a child at play, or a worker in a farm or field. Even if the field is cleared of mines once, the danger can return as plastic-encased explosive devices move around in annual floods.
On most days, Channareth visits amputees and their families in some of the 500 villages of his country. He and staff from his organization often provide drinkable water, food, and wheelchair repair. For some families they help provide jobs. One example, he said, is providing a box of tools, which can enable a person to work locally on common jobs, such as repairing bicycles. In some cases, they might provide a cow to a family, or a bicycle, or work with local villagers to build a well.
We asked Channareth what we could do to help support his mission. He emphasized that people can weigh in on the subject by signing the online petition requesting that the United States join other countries in a global effort to ban landmines.
Additional information and ways to help can be found though the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Read more about Tun Channareth in Jack Broom’s article in the Seattle Times at: ‘Suffering never stops,’ says land-mine survivor
ASPA Member Mary Van Verst is program development and evaluation coordinator for the Washington Commission for National & Community Service. Email: [email protected]