“I was 26. I was sitting in the bed of a military pick-up. We were going to look for wood to cook with. Wood was precious at Site II, the refugee camp where I was living. My husband was with us. I suddenly flew into the air. I had enough time to open and close my eyes three times before smashing into the ground. The van had driven over an anti-tank mine.”
Seng Ly hasn’t forgotten the moment her life was turned upside down. “When I’m alone, I can’t help but think about it again. After the accident, they hid the fact that I wouldn’t be able to walk again. My husband left me. He went away for a week and never came back. He found another wife.”
After returning to Cambodia in 1994, Seng Ly was case-managed by Handicap International at the Battambang centre set up by the organisation for paraplegics returning to Cambodia. She was given a wheelchair and taught how to look after her health and to avoid sores, which are dangerous for paraplegics. Handicap International also gave her her first sewing machine and, in association with a partner organisation, trained her to be a seamstress.
Twenty years on, Handicap International continues to play a role in her life. Now back in her native region of Kampong Cham, Seng Ly receives follow-up care in the organisation’s rehabilitation centre. Her wheelchair is regularly repaired or changed. She also receives support from a team that helps people with disabilities develop income-generating activities – vital in a country where poverty is a serious problem with very serious consequences for people with disabilities.
“I recently learned how to manage my business properly, thanks to Handicap International, and I’ve been given a new, better sewing machine. I now earn enough money to meet my elderly mother’s needs,” says Seng Ly proudly.
“But I haven’t been able to find another husband. I sew clothes for other people’s children,” she continues sadly, before adding:
“I want to tell everyone in the world to stop using mines. They damage people’s lives and every victim continues to suffer for the rest of their lives.”