April 4 is the United Nations’ International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. Since the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention opened for signature in 1997, 164 countries have ratified or acceded to it. But landmines and unexploded ordnances continue to pose a threat and it is estimated that there are 110 million landmines in the ground right now. Raising awareness of landmines and working for their eradication has been one of Peace Boat’s key projects since 1998. The Peace Boat Landmine Abolition Campaign (P-MAC) was established after a voyage visiting Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia where participants learned about the continuing and devastating impacts of landmines.
The “100 Yen Campaign to Eliminate Landmines from Cambodia”, a fund-raising activity to support the removal of landmines in Cambodia, has been ongoing since the launch of P-MAC. In the last 20 years, 8,800 people have been hit by landmines in Cambodia, the third highest number after Afghanistan and Colombia. The 100 yen campaign gets its name from the fact that the average cost of removing landmines from 1m2 of land in Cambodia was 100 yen. At Peace Boat Centers across Japan, volunteer staff carry out street fundraising activities and receive donations from individuals and schools. The donations collected are given to our partners in Cambodia, the "Cambodia Mine Action Center (CMAC)". By the end of 2020, Peace Boat had helped clear landmines on 2,015,337 m2 of land and processed 349 landmines and 616 unexploded ordnances. P-MAC has built four elementary schools and one health center so far on land cleared of landmines.
Supporting education in Cambodia - Koh Ler and Sna Pha Ek
In 2005, P-MAC built an elementary school on land that had been cleared of landmines in Koh Ker Village. It was the first elementary school in the village since the war. Since then, Peace Boat has supported the removal of landmines in eight locations, including the area around the school, the road that serves as a school route, and the surrounding Koh Ker ruins. A few years after the establishment of an elementary school on safe land, a local NGO began teacher training, improvement of the school environment, provision of school lunches and established a library. Peace Boat cooperates by delivering stationery, books and supporting school building renovation work. Surrounded by the jungle in northern Cambodia, Sna Pha Ek village was a fierce battlefield during the civil war, leaving many land mines. In response to a request from the village to build an elementary school, P-MAC helped CMAC clear landmines on approximately 70,000 square meters of land in 2015 and in 2016, Peace Boat built an elementary school on the land.
Meeting those affected - P-MAC Study Programme in Cambodia
Peace Boat staff member, Sachiko Morita, who has been responsible for P-MAC since 2002, was awarded the Royal Order of Sahamet of the Kingdom of Cambodia in 2014 and the Royal Order of Sowatara in 2016 from the Cambodian government in recognition of her contribution to landmine abolition activities. She explains “When I became a Peace Boat staff member and became involved in landmine clearance and assistance to victims in Cambodia, I felt the importance of knowing the story of each person. Data such as how many landmines are buried or how many people are affected are important, but the numbers alone do not show the real problem. I have spoken to many people, including mine victims, people living in minefield villages, and staff of organizations that support them, and have tried to convey their stories as best I can”.
The study programmes carried out by P-MAC in Cambodia as part of Peace Boat’s global voyages are a way of sharing these stories. Participants in the study programmes learn about the history of the Cambodian Civil War, visit landmine clearance sites to see first-hand the work of CMAC and meet CMAC staff working to clear the mines. Participants have the opportunity to meet with landmine victims and villagers living close to landmines to hear their individual stories. Participants learn how survivors are rebuilding their lives at the Siem Reap State Physical Rehabilitation Center which provides free prostheses to those who have lost limbs. The local NGO, Angkor Association for the Disabled (AAD) provides vocational training to persons with disabilities (PWDs). During one visit from Peace Boat, founder Mr Sem Sovantha told participants about his decision to establish the NGO. "I also lost both legs after stepping on a land mine and thought about suicide for a while, but when I saw other victims dying one after another due to hunger and illness, I decided to help."
Since around 2003, about 40 study programmes have been held with a total of 800 people taking part. Many of the participants on the study programme participate in "100 Yen Campaign” fundraising activities as volunteer staff before boarding the ship. They visit Cambodia to learn more about how the donations are used and to meet and talk with those affected in person. During the programme, there are many opportunities to hear stories of mine victims and people living in minefield villages, which can be painful just to hear. At the same time, participants say that interacting with the people they meet is a lot of fun - dancing, playing wheelchair basketball, and being taught to play traditional Cambodian musical instruments.
Morita Sachiko, who is responsible for coordinating the study programme, explains that it is also important for Peace Boat participants to understand that they meet only a small number of those affected by landmines. Those who are able to talk about their experiences have overcome difficulties and are now working to rebuild their lives. Behind them are hundreds of victims who have committed suicide, are ill, or are withdrawn from society. After visiting Cambodia, programme participants give presentations onboard the ship about what they have learned and continue their fundraising activities to support landmine clearance and victim support in Cambodia.
Peace Boat has welcomed representatives from our partner organisations in Cambodia onboard the ship as guest educators and to Japan to share stories about their work.
P-MAC under COVID
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant more than one year has passed without being able to carry out the street fundraising activities that have been a key part of P-MAC’s work or carry out study programmes in Cambodia. But activities to eliminate landmines are still needed. During the pandemic, P-MAC has been focusing on online study sessions and social media to continue to raise awareness and share stories. P-MAC opened an online shop (in Japanese) last year with all profits from purchases being used for activities to abolish landmines. Peace Boat also accepts donations for P-MAC.