Sunday, November 16, 2003

With passport problems behind me, I've been able to turn my attention to more important matters -- like sleeping. Sean and I had planned to head out this morning to work on a story about women who collect spiders and sell them for people to eat -- some are dipped in honey. Yum!

However, a heavy night sampling the underbelly of Phnom Penh put paid to that and we decided to rest up instead.

I did manage to finish off a photo journal for BBC News Online. It'sa day in the life of Seng Somala, the supervisor of Cambodia's only all-female demining team.

We went out with them on Thursday and found them utterly enchanting -- 15 women from their early 20s to their mid 40s, all laughing and joking as they headed out to the minefield to risk their lives. Quite amazing.

I'll be doing a radio piece on them for the week after next, which will run on the Woman's Hour programme.

Meantime, here's an extract from the photo journal:

Photo One: My day starts at six o’clock in the morning with a stop off at the market a few miles from the minefield where I work. The 15 women deminers on my team sit down for breakfast and I buy supplies for lunch. It’s always a bit of a rush because it’s important to start work as early as possible, before it gets too hot.

Photo Two: Every time I go into the minefield in the village of Svay Sor I have to put on a special helmet and flak jacket. 8 people have been killed and another 9 injured just in the small area where we’re working – that’s why we’re here. The villagers can’t be sure their land is completely safe until we’ve checked every metre of land.

Photo Three: Each of the metal detectors used by the women in my team are checked regularly. The detectors need to be finely calibrated if they’re to find every single unexploded mine or bomb. We work to strict operating procedures – although the job isn’t without danger, if the deminers follow the rules they should be safe.

Photo 4: As well as clearing minefields, we educate the villagers living in the surrounding areas about the dangers of landmines and unexploded bombs. We explain to them how to minimise the risks. Here in Cambodia landmines are everywhere – the country is one of the most heavily mined in the world. Less than a fortnight ago 3 people travelling through a field in an ox cart rode over an anti-tank mine. They were all killed instantly. It’s that kind of accident we’re trying to avoid.

Photo Five: This woman is pointing at a bomb similar to the one she found in a well in her field. Her nephew removed it, but by doing so he could easily have set it off. Many people living in Svay Sor know the land they live and work on is heavily mined but they have no choice but to work the fields. It’s the only land they have.

Photo 6: It’s important that the deminers maintain the highest standards and clearly every single scrap of metal. To ensure they are, I regularly double-check the work done by the deminers. It’s vital the land cleared is 100% safe – if even a tiny mistake is made, the results could be fatal.

Photo Seven: I plot the day’s progress on a large map. The green shaded areas represent the parts of the minefield that have been cleared. The areas in white still have to be tackled. We’ve only been working in the Svay Sor minefield for two weeks so there’s still a lot of ground to cover. We expect to be here for a while yet – we’ll stay until the job is done.


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