Cambodian dignitaries, team workers from around the world, facility staff and children all came together to celebrate a significantly special day for the Cambodian Land Mine Museum and Relief Facility.
On Thursday, January 10, 2008, a ceremony took place in which the facility was presented its official organization licensing certificate. In Cambodia, this certificate, difficult for most organizations to achieve, is imaginably more difficult to attain for an organization which has defused land mines on display. But this facility, an eight year project implemented by Canadian documentary filmmaker Richard Fitoussi of Bayfield, Ontario, is more than just a Land Mine Museum. It is also the home to Akira, his family, and the 22 child land mine victims which presently live there.
As part of the 'Team', I was delighted to be a part of this momentous day. The ceremony saw 23 noted dignitaries on the stage, and the event was covered by Time Magazine (Canadian Edition).
At 9:30am, after the opening remarks, we all rose to respect the Cambodian National Anthem. Richard Fitoussi then thanked everyone for making this day possible, and proceeded by reading a letter recently presented to him by Lloyd Norman Axworthy, PC, OC, OM, Ph.D, MA., who's greatest success was the Ottawa Treaty, an international treaty to ban anti-personnel land mines. He also campaigned against the use of child soldiers and the international trade in light weapons.
In his letter, Dr. Axworthy speaks of keeping a landmine from Bosnia in his office as a stark reminder of the devastating cruelty of this man made weapon. He noted that as of October 2007, 156 state dignitaries have signed the Treaty, and that 40 million land mines have been destroyed since the Treaty's implementation. Dr. Axworthy thanked and congratulated the Facility for the success of all its endeavors.
The Deputy Governor of Siem Reap was the next dignitary to take to the podium and offer his congratulations, followed by His Excellency, Secretary General of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, Mr. Sam Sotha. In 1997, Sam Sotha was in attendance at the signing of the Ottawa Treaty. He spoke on how hard Cambodia, and other NGO's in place, work constantly to clear land mines. He stated that the government has to work hard to assist the victims, and acknowledged the help the new Facility gives to children injured by land mines. His Department worked hard to check, and double-check, every landmine at the Museum, to ensure that they were defused. He applauded Fitoussi and Akira for their tremendous work, and then ceremoniously handed them the official licensing certificate.
The children were next in line to be honored for their scholastic achievements, as each one in turn was presented with an Oxford Khmer/English dictionary. They were presented by Asad Rahmen & Olivia Lorge of Project Enlighten www.projectenlighten.org , the NGO which raises funds towards scholarships for these children. Richard Fitoussi Sr., along with wife Corrine, next presented gifts to the Facility staff and educators.
Tol and Voleak, two resident children of the facility gave heartwarming speeches of how the facility has given them the opportunity for a better education, resulting in hopes for a rewarding future.
Local police and military were also in attendance, and Akira presented the local police with a gift of hand held radios, insuring the Facility's immediate communication with the police, should the need arise.
Ending the morning's celebration was one final speech, given by the man who's dream made this all possible – Akira. Akira's never-ending vision, 'To Make My Country Safe for My People', is a vision shared by many in Cambodia. Akira has never stopped acting on his vision, resulting in many years of having personally defused and removed landmines. He has also taken into his family uncared for children of land mine casualties. I was personally touched when he stressed his strong desire to build more schools in the rural areas of Cambodia lacking schools. Within the next week I will personally be able to share this desire with Akira as we go to visit the Cambodian countryside to view the site for the future 'Muskoka School', funded by the generous citizens of Muskoka.
He is a man of many visions, and thanks to all of those who made this New Facility possible. The Facility is solely run on donations. It presently has a very small schoolroom that only comfortably seats 5 children. The Relief Facility is presently fundraising to build a new, larger schoolroom. Donations can be made through the Cambodian Land Mine Museum and Relief Facility's website at: http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/