Cambodia | In 1982, Emilie received her first artificial leg made of bamboo
Emilie Pin Vath was 6 when she lost her foot in a landmine explosion in Cambodia. She was one of the very first people to be fitted with an artificial limb by HI after its founding in 1982.
Emilie was born in Battambang, Cambodia. She fell on a landmine in 1982 when she and her family were fleeing the Khmer Rouge. After arriving at Khao I Dang camp at the Cambodia-Thailand border, Emilie crossed paths with HI’s team and was fitted with an artificial limb made of bamboo. Today, Emilie is 48 and living in France. She tells her story:
At the time, there was a war in Cambodia. Because of the Khmer Rouge's hold on the country, my family had to flee their village, which is why I found myself on the road between Thailand and Cambodia.
One day as we were traveling, we stopped at a refugee camp near a pond. We had come a long way and, like the other children, I was eager to make the most of the cool water. I waited until my parents fell asleep and snuck out to go for a swim.
On the way to the pond, we passed some men running in the opposite direction. As they went by, one of them pushed me and I fell onto a landmine. There was a deafening bang. After that, all I remember is a black veil descending. Everything went dark. When I woke up, I saw that my left foot was gone. It had been torn off in the mine explosion.
Arriving at the refugee camp
I received emergency first aid, but for proper treatment, I had to go to another refugee camp in Thailand. It was a long way away and my family carried me through the forest on a stretcher for 15 days. I had no medicine, no painkillers—nothing. When we arrived at Khao I Dang camp, I saw many people with missing arms or legs, most of them children.
I was taken to the clinic, where they took off my bandages. It took at least five minutes and I remember very well how the white cloth suddenly turned red. Once the bandages were removed, the doctors could see that gangrene had started to spread up my leg. They decided to amputate.
A month later, I came out of a medically-induced coma. Before the operation, I thought they would amputate below the knee, which would have made it easier to walk again. But when I lifted the sheet, I realized that the amputation was in fact higher up, mid-femur.
HI’s first bamboo limbs
There was a workshop making a lot of noise in the camp, and as soon as I could get around on my crutches, I went to see what was going on. In the workshop, there were hammers, pieces of bamboo and iron rods. One of the workers saw me and explained: "We are making bamboo prostheses for children like you. They will be used for people who have been amputated because of landmines.” I ran back to my parents, shouting: “Mummy, there’s a workshop where they are making legs! For children like me!”
That’s when I met the founders of HI. They came to support us and, despite the language barrier, they were training refugees to make artificial limbs from bamboo.
I had to wait for my leg to heal before I could try my first artificial leg. It hurt a lot at first. You have to remember at the time, there was nothing to reduce the pain. But as soon as I put my prosthetic foot on the floor, I said to myself, "At last I can walk like everyone else!” Six months after my amputation, I was standing on two feet again. Despite the pain, I wore my artificial limb every day. I played soccer in flip-flops, played with marbles and bungee cords, danced in the rain... and, like children everywhere, I got up to all kinds of mischief!
Living without limits
Thanks to the Red Cross, my family was able to move to France in September 1982. The early days were very hard. We came from a country with a totally different culture and, at only 6 years old, I had witnessed the indescribable horrors of war. Those memories have stayed with me ever since.
Growing up, I saw my artificial limb differently. I would meet children who had never seen an amputee before and they fixated on it. They always saw me as the girl with the prosthesis and that really affected me.
Fortunately, my parents always encouraged me not to worry about what other people said and to live my life as I wanted. So I never limited myself. For example, I played a lot of sports: eight years of badminton, table tennis, tennis, soccer and diving.
Now I live and work here, and I have even become a French citizen. But, the more time goes by, the more I miss my other country. Today, my dream is to go back to Cambodia and settle there.
40th Anniversary | Gneip's story: From landmine survivor to policy advocate
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.
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.
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.
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!
Thailand | Keeping refugees in Umpiem Mai camp safe from COVID-19
Humanity & Inclusion’s teams and the disability self-help group visited the most isolated families in the Umpiem Mai refugee camp in Thailand to give individuals information on the threat from COVID-19 and how they can protect themselves from it.
Ma Yin Maung, 37, who has an intellectual disability was initially very worried about the epidemic: "I didn't even dare leave my home to buy food,” she says. “I was scared and couldn't get straightforward information about it.”
The information she received from Humanity & Inclusion’s teams reassured her immediately. Our teams also gave her a hygiene kit with two masks, soap, and small posters about the virus.
“After Humanity & Inclusion’s information session, I felt confident enough to walk around the camp wearing a mask and buy items I need every day. HI also gave me a prevention kit, which is extremely useful for me and my family," she adds.
Focus on the most vulnerable
As COVID-19 takes aim at our planet's most vulnerable neighbors, Humanity & Inclusion donors ensure that people with disabilities, people with injuries from conflict, children, women, and especially older people have the information--and even the soap--they need to stay healthy. Learn more about Humanity & Inclusion's vast COVID-19 response.
Begin a monthly gift today to help sustain this work and reach as many people as possible.
Thailand | Gaining confidence and making new friends
Augustine Moo, 8, was born with cleft lip, leaving his parents in a tough situation to handle while raising four other children in very basic circumstances in the Thai temporary shelter camp where the Burmese family found shelter ten years ago. Augustine was a shy and insecure boy. That is, until he met Humanity & Inclusion.
Due to his lip, Augustine had difficulties communicating. For many years, he was mocked by other children and felt isolated and lonely. The teasing got better after Augustine’s surgery, but what really helped was his participation in the Growing Together children’s club, organized by Humanity & Inclusion. “In that club, Augustine developed communicative skills and learned how to engage in relationships with other children”, says his mother Ree Mah. Today, he is more confident which has made a positive impact on his friendships. Since starting the club, he has made some good friends. “So far, only boys,” Augustine adds, smiling shyly. “Sometimes I don’t know how to behave among all those girls.”
Attending the Growing Together club has also had a big impact on his schooling. “Because of his isolation, Augustine wasn’t motivated at school, but now he’s more confident and really keen to perform well and catch up. I’m home tutoring him and now he’s the third best student of his class,” says his proud mother.
Growing Together Project
Growing Together is a four-year project in Thailand, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and is funded by the IKEA Foundation. Humanity & Inclusion is creating inclusive spaces where children can come together–through play–to work through some of the challenges they face, especially children with disabilities. In addition to inclusive playgrounds, Growing Together will target the youngest children who are at risk of developmental problems. Simultaneously, the program will engage local child development service providers and help them become more responsive to the needs of boys and girls with disabilities and other vulnerable children. Learn more about the partnership.
Beneficiary story | Sanda dreams of becoming a teacher
Ten-year-old Sanda Aung fled her home in Myanmar and now lives in small bamboo house in Umpiem refugee camp in Thailand. Her parents are too poor to send her to school and the only time she ever gets to be a child is when she attends play activities organized by HI.Read more
Parents learn the importance of play
As part of the Growing Together project, supported by the IKEA Foundation, Handicap International promotes early detection, stimulation, and rehabilitation sessions for children to prevent the onset of disabilities and improve their living conditions in refugee camps in Bangladesh, Thailand, and Pakistan. Our teams teach parents, caregivers, and community volunteers how to stimulate young children and promote healthy habits through play and daily activities.Read more
Djamila: Standing tall in Thailand
In June 2015, four-year-old Djamila’s life changed. Handicap International teams were searching the Mae La refugee camp in Thailand for people with disabilities who needed help when they heard about her case and tracked her down. Born with spina bifida, with paralysis in her lower limbs, Djamila could not walk. Thanks to our donors, she received braces and physical therapy, allowing her to stand tall.
A sister's hope
Sahida takes her role seriously as big sister. She accompanies Djamila to her rehabilitation sessions with Handicap International and supports her as she walks. “I know the road is long, but I hope that she will one day walk to school like the other children her age,” Sahida explains
First of many
Djamila’s family recently watched as she took her first steps. As she grows, Djamila will need newly adapted braces, but for now she’s mobile and can look forward to an active future on her own two feet.Read more
Refugees in Thailand
For the past few decades, Thailand has been a major destination country for asylum seekers and refugees from Myanmar. Since 1984, Thailand has provided refuge to people fleeing violence in Myanmar, and more recently to economic migrants. The population in the Thai refugee camps, located along the Myanmar-Thailand border, is now estimated at 111,000 people. Many were born in the camps and have never set foot outside.Read more
Spotlight on Refugees
Humanity & Inclusion is committed to supporting people who are fleeing conflict and natural disaster. Whether they are sheltering within their own countries or residing in countries of first asylum as refugees, our teams are hard at work providing basic and specific aid to people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. Read about our work with refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) as well as our other projects in the 11 countries below.
This life-saving work is possible thanks to the generous support of our donors, as well as key funding agencies such as the U.S. Department of State, IKEA Foundation, among others.