So, now comes to the project itself. Some of the interviews we’ve captured so far. I’d like to introduce you to….
We met with Borany (Rany) on our second day in Siem Reap. We’d already been in contact with her and some of the staff at This Life Cambodia, expressing a wish to visit the NGO and perhaps include them in our project.
We’d asked the guys from TLC if there’s anything we could do to help out, while we’re spending time with them. They have recently had 50% of their funding cut do to the changes in the Australian government and subsequent reductions to funding provided through AusAid, so a big focus for them at the moment is marketing, promotion and fundraising.
Over the course of a week we worked with them to produce a promotional video. This allowed us to go out to some of the communities they work with, meet some of the students, teachers, and community members who benefit from their work; such an awesome way to really see and experience the heart and soul of a place. Something that we definitely didn’t get a feel of from just seeing some of the famous sights.
Rany had said from the start that she’d be interested in being interviewed for our project and that she had a story that she would like to share.
One thing I love about Rany is that she is just a really lovely person to be around. I hope that comes through in our filming of her. She’s got a really gentle, warm and friendly nature that allows you to feel like you’ve known her for longer than you have. Her sense of humour and laughter are infections.
In the car on the way out to visit one of communities TLC works with, she joked with us about wanting to go “fishing”; a euphemism for looking to date someone. When I asked her what her criteria was in a man, Rany stated simply, but beautifully, that she was just looking for someone who she could love and who loved her back.
Rany invited us to have lunch with her at her house. As we sat and ate, she shared her story with us. She shared the challenges of growing up in poverty and having to fight to get an education. Rany was needed at home on the farm to help the family with basic survival for much of her school years, but never gave up on her will to learn and create opportunities for herself. She would attend school when she could, study when she could, and borrow notes from friends when she couldn’t attend.
Rany expressed her gratitude towards her uncle who gave her the opportunity to eventually move to Phnom Penh to attend university and study Community Development. Rany now works for an organization, which focuses on providing opportunities for people for their own education. She uses her own experiences to empower communities to take responsibility and effective action to improve the education for children. Currently, she is financially supporting her two younger sisters through their own university education.
Though her story is inspiring, Rany is still a normal human being, with her own sources of inspiration, her own fears and vulnerabilities, her own views on the world she lives in and her own human needs of love, companionship, opportunity and respect. To me, she is the perfect example of someone who is willing to put in a lot of hard work, effort and deal with the setbacks along the way to reach a goal and improve her life. I’m grateful for having spent the time hanging out with and getting to know Rany and now consider her a friend.
Upon reflection, I’m thankful that we met with Aki Ra before visiting the Killing Fields and the Cambodian Genocide Museum, otherwise my initial connection and perception with him may have been quite different.
Tom contacted the Program Manager of the Landmine Museum in Siem Reap a few weeks before we arrived in Cambodia to see if it was possible for us to meet with and interview the founder of the museum, Aki Ra. We’d both heard about this man, Aki Ra, a former child soldier for the Khmer Rouge, who has since dedicated his life to deactivating thousands of landmines, initially on his own, and now with a team of people behind him. Not surprisingly, Aki Ra is diagnosed as having Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and has stated that he is doing less and less interviews due to the impact they have on his mental health.
I was pretty nervous and cautious about this interview. The last thing I wanted was to re-traumatize this gentle, softly spoken man. As we were interviewing, I could visibly see the fear in his eyes and the hesitation before each question; waiting for the question that would trigger a memory or flashback. Tom could hear the heaviness in his breathing as he prepared each response. We kept the questions focused more on the now and what he hopes for, for the future. We can all make assumptions of some of the experiences of a child soldier in the Khmer Rouge. There was no need to make him go over the intimate details. It wasn’t until I told him that I’d finished with the questions that he fully relaxed and began to fully open up and talk.
He summed up Ubuntu and his sense of personal responsibility with his reasoning behind what he is doing. He cannot change what has happened, but believes that, landmine by land mine, he can make a difference to many peoples’ lives. His slogan; “One mine, one life!” He says it better than I do, so you’ll just have to wait for the footage to be released.
The human side behind Aki Ra is that he was just a boy when he was taken into the Khmer Rouge and trained as a soldier. As he stated, he didn’t know right from wrong. At a young age he was told that there was this great big monster that was out to cause harm and destroy everything. This was the Vietnamese. This brainwashing of thousands of young influential boys created an army, strong of men willing to fight at all costs and not consider the human side of what they were doing. They themselves had been de-humanized. Taken away from parents, love and guidance.
Because I was able to hear his story, I’ve experienced Aki Ra as so much more than just a soldier fighting for the Khmer Rouge. His story allows me to understand, in a way, how he could come to cause the harm that he did, but have compassion for the suffering that he is now left with. I also appreciate and respect the choice he has made to do what he can to reverse some of this harm.
I’m hoping that as this project continues and we continue to meet, connect with and interview interesting people from around the world, we can all really start to bring Ubuntu to life. Thanks for being a part of this journey! Next stop… India!