“After my parents split up, they sold our land, and my mother and I had to become migrant field workers to survive,” says Nak, a 17-year-old Cambodian boy. “When I was 15, a company offered me the chance to become a wood-cutter, and I thought I’d found a real profession. Instead, I lost my leg to an anti-personnel landmine.”
The company that hired Nat never told him that the area where he was sent to work, a forest near the border with Thailand, was surrounded by a ring of landmines planted sometime during the conflicts that engulfed Cambodia in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
“I was walking around a tree when it happened,” says Nak. “I don’t remember anything. Just darkness. My workmates took me to the hospital. I lost my leg the same day. Later, they told me I’d stepped on a mine.”
Abandoned to his fate by his employer, Nak fell into depression. “Without my leg I couldn’t work anymore,” says Nak. “I was a burden on my family, and they’re already very poor.”
Five months after the accident, Nak met a child in the village where he was staying who also had a leg amputated—due to a road accident—but he had an artificial leg. The boy told Nak that if he wanted a new leg he should visit Handicap International.
Founded in 1982 to help Cambodian landmine survivors, Handicap International has been providing physical therapy and artificial limbs to Cambodians with amputated limbs for decades.
“When I realized I could get a new leg, I started to feel more hopeful about the future again,” says Nak. “I visited Handicap International’s Kampong Cham Rehabilitation Center with my sister and they immediately measured me for a prosthetic leg.”
Since then, Nak has been fitted with two other prostheses to accommodate his growing body. “My prostheses have changed my life—I can walk, play volleyball with my friends, and work, but working in the fields makes me feel very tired and wears out my artificial leg,” says Nak.
Because Nak never finished school, he has been unable to get a less labor intensive job. However, Davaan, a Handicap International social worker, recently enrolled Nak in a job training program where he will learn to be a motorcycle mechanic.
“I start my training program in a few months and now I know I’ve got a future ahead of me,” says Nak. “I’m grateful to Handicap International for what they have done for me.”
Davaan is confident about Nak's future. “When I first met Nak, he was shy and reserved,” Davaan recalls. “Now he is involved and interested. He really wants to change his life. I know that he’s going to do everything he can to make it work.”