by Aki Ra, Books Sanseido, 2005, Yen 1,300
Shibata Yukinori (Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo) 

When I went to Cambodia with the study tour group of "Camboren" (Association for Solidarity with Friends in Cambodia) in February 2004, I paid a visit to the Akira Landmines Museum in Siem Reap by the famous Angkor Wat. I thought that Akira was a Japanese person, but it was obviously the name of a Cambodian. According to the author of this book, "Aki" means "God Sun" and "Ra" "a fast runner." If that were in Japan it could had been a wooden building like a shanty with safely defused landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) scattered all over. The building is both a museum and a private house where Akira's family lives together with children, victims of landmines that go to school from there. Some Japanese volunteers were also there helping out. I was not able to meet with Mr. Akira, but I got much interested in his personality and the way he built and runs the Museum at his own expense, making himself obnoxious to government officials.

A few days ago I went to a public library near my home and found a book written by Akira. I borrowed it and went through it to find out to my amazement that, according to himself, he had spent part of his life in cruel revolts as well as in his actual selfless volunteer activities.
Mr. Akira was born in 1973. In 1975 the Pol Pot government was established in Cambodia and since he was separated from his parents he received education with a "group of other children" and cannot be sure of his real age. His father, a teacher, was considered an intellectual and was killed because of feigned illness after harsh forced labor. His mother was also killed after being much blamed because of her kindness towards senior citizens. He was trained by Pol Pot Army as a 5-year old orphan and when he was still 10 years old was given a rifle to fight the Vietnamese Army and knew how to lay landmines. The Vietnamese caught him, when he was 13 year old and fought the Pol Pot Army as a Vietnamese soldier. When he was 16 he joined Hen Sarin's government forces to fight Pol Pot again.

Until he was 20 years old and during 10 consecutive years Akira fought as a soldier killing tens of enemies and laying over 10 thousand landmines. In 1993, when UNCTAD gave orders to all soldiers to surrender, he started to work for demining and could, finally, experience a life as a civilian working for jobs without connection to war. Akira, once he got to know for the first time that he could select the type of life he wanted, felt that the job of demining was his own vocation. While working with UNCTAD he was able to use the languages he could speak and thus earning income as a tourist guide started to work freely as a deminer by himself.

After clearing a big number of landmines and UXO he used all his earnings to buy land. In 1999 he built a home and a museum to let people know of the cruel realities of landmines. There he started to take care of war orphans and children without hands and legs, victims of landmines, making them attend school. He continued his vigorous action just as if he wanted to recall those sad 20 years of fighting wars.
His devoted commitment has attracted a circle of supporters from Japan and many other countries.

It is said that several million landmines were formerly laid in Cambodia. Akira has cleared from 20 to 30 thousand landmines without using any machine, just by hand and a wooden iron stick. Due to long years of demining, the poison of dynamite powder has penetrated his lungs and spoiled his health. Nevertheless he continues clearing landmines.

Akira has two sons, one with the name "Amata" (in Khmer language it means "will not die") and the other "Mine" ("landmine" in French). I was shocked by the tenacity of Akira in his attitude, "I will never allow children to die because of landmines." At the same time, I was deeply moved by the fact that a person can come out from unhappy circumstances and by changing his life style can render service to others.

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