AN UN­EX­PECTED SO­LU­TION

Asian Geographic - - Environment -

An hour’s drive from Siem Reap, in a large plot of scrub­land, Vic­to­ria scur­ries along the baked turf, nose to the ground. At­tached to a har­ness tied be­tween two han­dlers, she works tire­lessly, only stop­ping for the oc­ca­sional groom.

Vic­to­ria is one of 13 gi­ant African pouched rats – dubbed Herorats – trained by the Tan­za­nia-based char­ity, APOPO. Work­ing in part­ner­ship with the Cam­bo­dian Mine Ac­tion Cen­tre (CMAC), these or­gan­i­sa­tions have part­nered with these un­likely mine-de­tec­tors to un­der­take the mam­moth task of clear­ing Cam­bo­dia of land­mines.

The rats – which can grow up to one-me­tre-long, from twitch­ing nose to the tip of their tail – have all un­der­gone ex­ten­sive train­ing at APOPO’S head­quar­ters in Tan­za­nia. Here, they are taught to sniff out TNT, the ex­plo­sive used in land­mines.

APOPO first started util­is­ing the rats’ ex­cel­lent sense of smell in Mozam­bique and An­gola, be­fore be­gin­ning their Cam­bo­dian op­er­a­tion in Jan­uary 2016. Since then, they have helped clear seven mine­fields.

They have also given over 800,000 square me­tres of safe, mine-free land back to lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

The rats are sur­pris­ingly fast work­ers, cov­er­ing an area the size of a ten­nis court in around half an hour. This could take a per­son up to four days, as metal de­tec­tors pick up all forms of frag­men­ta­tion and scrap metal, not just mines.

Once a rat comes across an ex­plo­sive’s scent, they in­di­cate the lo­ca­tion by scratch­ing on the soil above. The rats are quite safe, as they aren’t heavy enough to det­o­nate the mine. Their re­ward? A chunk of a ba­nana or a few nuts. Rats, quite lit­er­ally, work for peanuts.

“I thought APOPO were crazy when they said they were go­ing to use rats,” ex­plains APOPO’S Pro­gramme Of­fi­cer in Cam­bo­dia, Soeun Prom. “Peo­ple used to hunt them for food, but af­ter they heard how use­ful rats are for land­mine clear­ance, they stopped killing them.”

“I thought APOPO were crazy when they said they were go­ing to use rats”

It doesn’t mat­ter that their ro­dents are an en­tirely dif­fer­ent species: Lo­cally, rats are now revered as life­sav­ing celebri­ties.

Af­ter los­ing his leg, and un­able to in­te­grate into the so­ci­ety he’d left be­hind, Suon had a ner­vous break­down. “I came out of the jun­gle and peo­ple were us­ing this thing – money,” he re­calls.

The fol­low­ing decades were some­thing of a blur of ther­apy and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. Once he had re­cov­ered and was able, he found work as a gar­dener at a lo­cal mu­seum.

At the same time, Suon be­gan learn­ing one word of English a day. He was also car­ing for his wife, who had lung can­cer – the re­sult of years of work­ing with ex­plo­sives. When she died, he was re­fused the right to take time off to bury her. “That was the end of it. So I de­cided to set up my own mu­seum,” he says.

The War Rem­nants Mu­seum opened last year. This rus­tic cen­tre is lo­cated just out­side of Siem Reap, not far from the fa­mous tem­ple, Angkor Wat. Ev­ery day, vis­i­tors are shown around a small field of ar­tillery and a room filled with as­sorted land­mines that were built to maim, kill, or even oblit­er­ate tanks.

Vis­i­tors are led around the mu­seum by for­mer child sol­diers – in­clud­ing Suon – who lost limbs to the war. It is an au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence, quite dif­fer­ent to sim­i­lar tours in Cam­bo­dia.

For Suon, the mu­seum is his way of aton­ing for the past and honour­ing those af­fected by land­mines. “I want to show peo­ple what we went through so it doesn’t hap­pen again.” ag

De­spite be­ing pit­ted against one an­other for decades, Svoboda’s sunny por­trait (shown left) sug­gests that many young Pales­tini­ans and Is­raelis are ready for change.

En­ter Seeds of Peace, a not-for­profit ini­tia­tive with a net­work of more than 6,400 alumni scat­tered through­out the Mid­dle East, South Asia, Europe, and North Amer­ica.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion works tire­lessly to ed­u­cate and in­spire youth from around the world to trans­form con­flict. Peace is the col­lec­tive goal.

Seeds of Peace works tire­lessly to ed­u­cate and in­spire youth from around the world to trans­form con­flict. Peace is the col­lec­tive goal

“The im­me­di­ate goal of camp di­a­logue is not agree­ment or con­sen­sus, and there is no ex­pec­ta­tion that campers adopt or even em­brace each other’s view­points,” Kapenga ex­plains. “Through di­a­logue, campers re­flect on their own iden­ti­ties and gain in­sights into the dy­nam­ics that per­pet­u­ate con­flict. In do­ing so, they lay the ground­work nec­es­sary for ex­plor­ing and ad­dress­ing these dy­nam­ics through lo­cal Seeds of Peace pro­grammes once they re­turn home.”

In 2015, Seeds of Peace un­veiled a new ini­tia­tive called “Gather”, which is a five-day con­fer­ence with the task of in­ves­ti­gat­ing new so­lu­tions for uni­fied progress. “Seeds of Peace’s pro­gramme in Jor­dan marked the launch of our ini­tia­tive to spark lo­cal­ly­rooted ef­forts to change the sta­tus quo,” Kapenga says.

“We con­vened over 200 change­mak­ers from more than 20 coun­tries in Jor­dan to fo­cus on the roles that busi­ness, en­trepreneur­ship, me­dia, tech­nol­ogy and gen­der play in so­cial change,” he adds.

Svoboda elab­o­rates: “Gather was a place where peo­ple who had big ideas could find prac­ti­cal ways to put them into ac­tion to have an im­pact on com­mu­ni­ties typ­i­cally in con­flict.” By bring­ing peo­ple to­gether who would not nor­mally have the chance to meet – and could pos­si­bly con­tinue their lives as en­e­mies – a nat­u­ral shift took place, sim­ply from lis­ten­ing to and learn­ing from one an­other, she ex­plains.

Of the 100 year-round projects and over 40 peace-build­ing ini­tia­tives staffed by Seeds of Peace alumni across the globe, they all share a com­mon goal. They are de­signed to

“The im­me­di­ate goal of camp di­a­logue is not agree­ment or con­sen­sus, and there is no ex­pec­ta­tion that campers adopt or even em­brace each other’s view­points”

Since 2001, Seeds of Peace has been work­ing in South Asia to in­spire and cul­ti­vate ex­cep­tional lead­ers in Pak­istan, In­dia, and Afghanistan.

“Our long­est-run­ning pro­grammes in South Asia are the in­ter­faith camps that bring to­gether teenagers of var­i­ous re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties to ex­plore the dif­fer­ences and sim­i­lar­i­ties in their be­liefs, and to dis­pel mis­con­cep­tions and stereo­types,” Kapenga says. “We cur­rently have over 500 alumni from In­dia, Pak­istan, and Afghanistan. Thou­sands more have par­tic­i­pated in, or ben­e­fit­ted from, our lo­cal pro­grammes on the ground in the three coun­tries. Our alumni are ac­tively work­ing to trans­form con­flict in and be­tween their coun­tries, lead­ing ini­tia­tives in ed­u­ca­tion, me­dia, busi­ness, and other sec­tors that lever­age their unique re­la­tion­ships and skills to cre­ate eco­nomic, so­cial, and po­lit­i­cal change.”

De­vel­op­ments in so­cial me­dia and the rise of cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism has cul­ti­vated a far-reach­ing dig­i­tal net­work that al­lows cul­tural de­mo­graph­ics all over the world to di­gest con­tent. No longer sus­pended in an in­su­lated bub­ble, na­tions caught in the midst of po­lit­i­cal con­flict are thrust into the spot­light, and any­body can ac­cess in­for­ma­tion and in­ter­act through these on­line chan­nels. In­di­vid­u­als who may have never come into con­tact be­cause of po­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances can now take part in dis­cus­sions over the In­ter­net, too.

That be­ing said, face-to-face di­a­logue re­mains im­por­tant. As such, Seeds of Peace has recog­nised the value of ac­tively mo­bil­is­ing a younger gen­er­a­tion who are ready to change deeply in­grained at­ti­tudes and per­cep­tions so that ha­tred and ig­no­rance does not con­tinue to take root.

By de­vel­op­ing lead­ers who can make a pos­i­tive im­pact in their com­mu­ni­ties, the hope is that the next gen­er­a­tion will in­sti­gate trans­for­ma­tion within their coun­try – to­wards peace­ful res­o­lu­tion. ag

Above left Mine warn­ing signs are com­mon­place around Cam­bo­dia left Work­ers con­duct daily brief­ings, be­fore the war on land­mines is waged above As tem­per­a­tures be­gin to rise, han­dlers re­tire their rats for the day. By late morn­ing, it’s too hot for the rod

Far left Han­dlers become emo­tion­ally at­tached to their rats and form close bonds with them left A land­mine dis­played at the War Rem­nants Mu­seum out­side of Siem Reap bot­tom left Suon Rotanna is a for­mer child sol­dier who lost his lower leg to a land­mine. T

Left A wor­shiper bows in the Church of the Holy Sepul­chre in Jerusalem’s Chris­tian quar­ter. He kneels at the rock that is said to have held the body of Je­sus Christ above This writ­ing on the wall in the city of Beth­le­hem calls for global ac­tion to end occ

Above Cel­e­bra­tions dur­ing the Purim in the Ma­hane Ye­huda Mar­ket in Jerusalem. Purim is an an­cient Jewish hol­i­day that com­mem­o­rates a time when many Jewish peo­ple in Per­sia were saved from ex­ter­mi­na­tion right The Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem i

Left A view of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem as seen from the Mount of Olives be­low A young boy walks along the wall be­fore a mil­i­tary check­point to en­ter into Is­rael from Ra­mal­lah

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