Why Are You Studing?
Speaking Tour of Rath and Bishop Kibe from Cambodia

Kawachi Chiyo (Tokyo, Jesuit Social Center)
A public educational speaking tour took place, from May 21 to June 5 organized by the Jesuit Social Center with the collaboration of many schools. Both speakers were from Cambodia. One of them was Tun Channareth (Reth), a Cambodian landmine victim who had received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). The other speaker, Enrique Figaredo (Kike), is at present the Apostolic Administrator of the diocese of Battambang. Bishop Kike, a Jesuit, has worked for a few years in Thai refugee camps for Khmer people during the eighties, when he was a Jesuit seminarian. Miss Horiuchi Hiroko, a volunteer working in the same Jesuit Service Cambodia, accompanied them as a Japanese translator. Based in Tokyo and Hiroshima, they visited and spoke at 10 Middle High Schools, one association of students' parents, 3 Universities, 8 churches and priests' gatherings and 3 public places, like YMCA. Everywhere they met large audiences that listened with great interest to their experiences and messages.
During their speech they challenged the audience with questions, puzzling the students unaccustomed to answer immediately. Usually the young people did not remain in an attitude of embarrassment because of their ignorance or passiveness. Most probably, they accepted, from those "living witnesses", the invaluable messages of vigorous kindness, hope and strength that crawls up from a hopeless situation.

Reth, born in 1960, survived long years of fight without knowing what peace is till only a few years ago. During the Pol Pot regime in the late seventies Reth lost his father and elder sister. Many people lost relatives and family members at that time. Reth spoke about his life experiences: Why did he lose both legs? What did he feel at that time? How could he overcome his despair? What is he doing in Cambodia now? He accustomed to challenge the audience with questions like, where do you think are landmines laid? What do you want to do from now on?
Reth's favorite question was: Tell me now "Why do you study?" School children were puzzled by such a direct question. Answers like: "I want to have a good job in the future and earn lots of money", "I must study to realize my dreams. I want to become a pharmacist, a medical doctor, and an engineer. I want to be of use to other people", "To be men, persons for others" (motto of Jesuit Schools) etc. In the case of adults, the question would be: "What are you working for?" "What is the meaning of your life". Is there any answer on hand?

Reth accepted as natural, answers like, "I study for myself, for my family and my future, for earning money", but he added: "Please, help the poor, help those around yourselves that are suffering without hope, those who do not find joy in their lives". He explained that there are still millions of landmines in 67 countries and new people are becoming victims. He constantly appealed to his audience not to forget landmine victims that were desperately living day by day and asked them to support them. Landmine victims are poor people living in poor countries. Even when wars are over, landmines remain silent in the soil, like sleepy soldiers that laid down waiting, indiscriminately, for anyone, either children or farmers, to step on them.
Cambodia is in peace now and there are no more new landmines been laid down, but in spite of that, there is an average of three new landmine victims each day.
One cannot, usually, see amputees of both legs in Japan. In case they were, they would wear long trousers and artificial legs. In preparing the program of Reth's public talk, even the executive committee of the students got often confused about how to handle Reth's visit to their school. But, when they saw him sitting in the wheelchair without both legs, moving freely around the stage, and addressing them with warm sympathy, they were deeply moved by his appearance. There was nothing pathetic in him.

Bishop Kike who is also involved in similar work as Reth presented the program of making wheelchairs. In Cambodia they visit the victims one by one and listen to their pledges, then, they adjust the wheelchairs to each of the victims.
Based on his rich experience, Bishop Kike explained in simple terms who are really the landmine victims. Without any doubt, the victim is the person that steps on a landmine, but the families are also victims. Whenever a person becomes a victim, from the moment that medical treatment starts, the whole family life is affected.
People that step on a landmine reproach often themselves for their accident, because, as a result of it, families have to sell not only property and livestock but also their houses. They lose all the basis of their lives. Family links become totally distorted. Disability brings with it a desire to commit suicide. Families are caught in a labyrinth of suffering and their pain is beyond imagination. Families come to lose all their hope in life together with the loss of a human basis to live. Villagers become such a burden to the communities that are obliged to leave the villages, because neither their relatives nor the communities can provide assistance to them. The country of Cambodia is the extension of the units of wounded communities where human relationships are habitually sick.
To the question: Who are the real victims of landmines? A middle school student answered: "the ones who laid the landmines". A university student said that she felt guilty when she saw both legs of Reth. Most probably, the fact that up to now she had been ignorant about this problem created a sense of guilty within her. I think that many people I met during the speaking tour were maybe "landmine victims" that found themselves wounded, by realizing that human respect and normal human relationships become destroyed by weapons like landmines. I pray that, as a first step, we try not to forget this situation and walk hand in hand with the suffering people.
I was lucky to accompany them during their stay in Japan and I am deeply thankful for it. The program could be implemented thanks to the efforts and cooperation of many persons. Schools, universities and churches adapted their busy schedules and provided the opportunity for the speaking program. I would like to thank all those who prepared the programs and the audiences that listened earnestly to the speakers. I would also like to make an especial mention of the staff of "Battambang's Friendship Association" in Hiroshima and of all those who worked so hard for the implementation of the programs.
In reality, this speaking tour is a further step in a series of programs that had already begun in 1998 with the organization of "Volunteer seminars" for Japanese educators. Since 2 years ago, our center organized international seminars in Cambodia for educators that developed into calling Cambodian speakers to visit Japan. Several participants to the Cambodian tours had come from the schools that invited Reth and Bishop Kike and they wholeheartedly participated in the preparation period.
The children I met were mush alive and flexible and I had the impression that they could freely open up new worlds, from now on. They keep, most probably, "landmines" difficult to detect in their hearts also. At the same time that they are "victims of landmines", they can show how strongly they try to live, leaving behind the marks of the wounds they carry inflicted by society, the schools and their own families.
This same view can be seen in Cambodia, through those people who get up from the wounds of a landmine and come out into social life or walk freely to the schools and temples. There is no difference at all in both.

Finally I would like to express here our gratitude for the financial contributions and honoraria received. They will be of great help to Jesuit Service Cambodia to continue the work of assisting the landmine victims there.

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