Tragedy ends in love for two Cambodian mine victims
He was born in Kompong Cham province, while she was born in Takeo province, further south. Under normal circumstances, they would probably never have met. But Tirean and Navea were both victims of mines in the 1980s. Now married, they are both supported by Handicap International's rehabilitation centre in Kompong Cham.
Tirean and Navea were both victims of landmines in the 80’s. They are supported by Handicap International. | © S. De Groeve/Handicap International
A small wooden house along a road, in a small village not far from the Mekong river. A man leaning on a crutch is selling a bottle of water, while a woman is vigorously washing laundry in a bowl - meet Tirean and Navea.
One day in 1986, Tirean’s boss sent him and some friends to another town. At the time, Cambodia was still littered with antipersonnel landmines. Tirean stepped on one of these hidden devices, triggering a violent explosion. One of his friends died in the accident and his left leg had to be amputated.
That same year, around 200 km away, Navea, then a young woman of 18 years old, set out with some neighbours to gather bamboo. As she walked through the fields, she also stepped on a landmine, losing her left leg.
"I was lucky," she adds. "Initially, I thought I would not be able to walk any more. But one of the doctors at the hospital in Phnom Penh, where I was being treated, took me under their wing. It was because of them that I could receive a prosthesis!"
"It took me three months to learn how to use my prosthesis. My husband took less time, but now he prefers to use a crutch, while I still wear it and walk faster than someone with both their legs." Tirean laughs: "Yeah, you even sleep with your prosthesis on!"
"We started talking... and then fell in love"
The couple met in 1993 at a vocational training centre for people with disabilities in Phnom Penh. "We started talking... and then fell in love."
And you can tell just by looking at them that they are still in love today. They are always teasing each other and exchanging knowing looks.
"We have three boys. They are currently 22, 18 and 9 years old. The youngest two are still studying, but the eldest is married and we will soon be grandparents," says Navea, clearly proud of her family.
The couple earn their living with one of them running a small shop and the other a laundry service. "With what we earn, we have enough to live on, pay for schooling for the children and can even put some money aside."
"I wear out my prothesis quickly"
Both Tirean and Navea use the services of Handicap International's rehabilitation centre in the city of Kompong Cham. Navea will need to go there soon.
She explains, "I wear out my prosthesis quickly. There are a lot of stairs here. I lose track of how many steps I go up and down to wash the laundry and hang it up to dry. They may need to change the foot!"
Tirean adds: "I use my prosthesis more when we go out, to go to the market for example. Years ago, people would look strangely at us. We really felt discriminated against. But now, we no longer feel this uneasiness. Yes, I can say that we are happy."