Go to main content

40th Anniversary | Gneip's story: From landmine survivor to policy advocate

Explosive weapons Rights
Cambodia International

In 1982, two doctors working in refugee camps in Thailand started helping survivors of landmine explosions who had been injured fleeing across the heavily mined border. There they met Gniep, a young girl who had lost her leg after stepping on a landmine. Gniep was one of the first children ever supported by Humanity & Inclusion. This is her story.

A young woman stands behind her mother wrapping her arm around her mother's chest.

Gniep and her daughter mid-embrace. | © P. Jerome / HI

I was 5 years old, living under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, four long years in absolute darkness of uncertainty, anguish and fear. In 1979, fleeing misery and hunger, I left my village with my aunt, leaving everything behind, believing that it was temporary.

Antipersonnel landmines were all over Cambodia. To this day they still kill and mutilate an alarmingly high number of people. At the time, we were not informed about the risk they posed. While in the camp, I went to fetch water and that’s when it happened: I stepped on a mine.

A young Cambodian girl stands wearing an artificial limb made of bamboo

I remember it as if it were yesterday; the violence was such that I was thrown in the air. Stunned and dizzy by the shock of the explosion, I did not know that I had just stepped on a mine. I tried to get up and walk three times before understanding that my right leg was torn off at the calf, and that the left one was badly affected, too.

By instinct of survival, probably, I moved myself to a path, where two soldiers passing by found me and brought me on their motorcycle to a makeshift dispensary. There, the analgesic I was given was a stick that I had to bite on when the pain became too much.

Then, I was transferred to a refugee camp in Thailand commonly known as Khao I Dang. I had to undergo 17 operations because the surgeon wanted to preserve the joint, but my leg was gangrenous and I fell into a coma for a month.

Not long afterward, I met the founding members of HI. They were a small group of young people, who were friends, husbands and wives, full of enthusiasm, their heads full of dreams and ideals, animated by a crazy desire to help people like me who had been stripped of everything. With great humanity and respect, they put me back on my feet again.

A Cambodian woman wearing a coat and boots holds a red sign that reads Danger Mines with a skull

My first prosthesis was very simple, made of recycled materials like wood, car tires, and resin. I admit that I had a hard time accepting it because it was heavy and hard to put on.

It's hard to believe that was 40 years ago. Today, despite my disability, I lead my life like everyone else. I am a night nurse, working for young people with multiple disabilities. And I am a mother of a young and beautiful girl. I am so very grateful to those women and men who helped me all those years ago. They gave me back my smile and dignity, which everyone should have!

Date published: 10/31/22


Where we work

Get the latest news about Humanity & Inclusion's work delivered straight to your inbox.