A former child soldier from Cambodia has made a special visit to Westbourne House School, after pupils raised nearly £10,000 to help his campaign to rid the country of landmines.
Olivia Lerche spoke to him about his campaign and the atrocities he witnessed.
AKI Ra was given his first gun at the age of ten.
After his parents were killed, he was indoctrinated by the Khmer Rouge – a radical communist regime responsible for the deaths of millions of people in the 1970s – and taught how to set and detonate landmines.
After years of fighting, Aki Ra started work for the UN to help remove landmines – a job he began to do with just a stick and a penknife.
“I realised I have a chance to help my country make peace. I did a bad thing in the past and it is a good thing I can do,” said Aki Ra.
“I want to make my country safe for my people.”
He began to sell the empty casings of the landmines to fund his work and charged people to view the collection – which has now become the Cambodia Landmine Museum in Siem Reap.
Bill Morse and his wife Jill moved to Cambodia after meeting Aki Ra. “I was intrigued by his work and decided we had to meet him,” said Bill. “So I went to find him.
“We think there are about 5m land mines in the ground in Cambodia.
“We moved out there, and never looked back.”
Bill helped Aki Ra set up the Landmine Relief Fund, raising money to rid the country of the problem and help the victims.
“Our primary goal is clearing landmines,” said Bill.
“Most people live in villages. They make their money by farming. But they are scared to farm because of the landmines. We have reduced the number of landmines in Cambodia. It is starting to make a difference to people’s lives.” Aki Ra is now married, with three children. His daughter wants to start demining like her father.
“She wants to do what I do,” said Aki Ra.
Bill said he has a great bond with children.
“He relates so well to them, and they look up to him.”
With the help of the charity funds, Aki Ra has established Cambodian Self Help Demining NGO, employing 30 men and women. He also looks after young landmine victims who are either orphaned or cannot be looked after by their families. The organisation also helps dozens of village children go to school.
Every year, pupils at Westbourne House School, in Chichester, vote for three charities to support. This year, they voted to support the Cambodian Landmine Relief Fund after hearing about Aki Ra and his work.
Holding garage sales, camping nights, fun runs and busking, pupils have thrown themselves in to fundraising.
Pupil Jack Patrick, a 12-year-old from Bignor, raised £600 for all three of the school charities by running ten miles to school.
Dominic Russell has raised more than £300 by asking family and friends to donate to Aki Ra’s charities instead of giving him presents on his ninth birthday.
Dominic and his three siblings spent time in Siem Reap with the children at Aki Ra’s facility in 2010.
Last week, Aki Ra visited the school to talk to the children and tell them his story and receive a cheque which will help Cambodian villagers get back on their feet.