“This is my third prosthesis. It has helped me find work again.”
In 2013, Nak, 15, stepped on a mine while he was working as a wood-cutter in the forest. For a teenage boy whose survival depends on his physical skills, the subsequent loss of his leg was a very real tragedy. The prostheses provided by Handicap International and his enrolment on an occupational training course have renewed his faith in the future.
Nak, 17, landmine survivor and future motorbike mechanic. Cambodia. | © Lucas Veuve / Handicap International
“After my parents split up, they sold our land, and life was very hard. I didn’t go to school. My mother and I hired ourselves out as migrant workers in the rice fields and plantations - anywhere we could find work. So I was really happy when a company offered me the chance to become a wood-cutter. I thought I’d found a real profession. Instead, I lost my leg to an anti-personnel mine,” explains Nak, now 17.
At the beginning of January 2013, he was sent to an area of forest close to the border with Thailand. “There were four of us. I was walking around a tree when it happened. I don’t remember anything. Just darkness. My workmates took me to hospital. I lost my leg the same day. Later, they told me I’d stepped on a mine.”
There’s a thriving black market for wood in Cambodia, and many businesses operate illegally. The company Nak was working for was probably one of them. They sent wood-cutters into a dangerous area contaminated by a ring of mines laid during one of the many conflicts that have ravaged the country in recent decades. Abandoned to his fate by his employer, the boy fell into depression. He was given somewhere to live by one of his companions in misfortune and an aid organisation covered his hospital expenses and paid for his return journey.
Five months later, Nak returned to Khampong Cham province where his family lives, a pair of crutches his only belongings. But life was unbearable: “Without my leg, I couldn’t work anymore. I was a burden on my family, and they’re already very poor. Fortunately, one of the village children, who had been in a road accident told me that I could get a prosthesis, like him. He told me about Handicap International.”
The organisation now provides Nak with follow-up care at the Kampong Cham rehabilitation centre. “This is my third prosthesis. It’s helped me find work again,” says Nak, who is getting his life back together again. He does menial jobs and goes wherever he’s needed. But his prosthesis is heavier than a real leg, so working in the muddy rice fields or picking up cashew nuts from the undergrowth is still very difficult. Davann, Handicap International’s social worker, has found a solution: she recently enrolled Nak for an occupational training course run by one of Handicap International’s partner organisations. “I’m going to be motorcycle repairman. But I’m going to learn to read and write first. It’s the chance of lifetime!”