AN UNEXPECTED SOLUTION
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