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Mine Action in Cambodia by Tim Grant


During the past five years, I have worked in four different mine awareness programs. The first was in 1990 with the Land Mine Awareness Programme (LMAP) whose mandate was to reach the Cambodian refugee camps on the Thai/Cambodian border. LMAP was the first mine awareness program to operate in the South East Asian region and was run through the International Rescue Committee (IRC) with funding by the Office of the U.N. Secretary General for the Coordination of Cambodian Humanitarian Assistance Programs.

My job, as media coordinator, was to design and produce all the education materials for the program and to run the informal media component. After LMAP finished, I entered Cambodia and set up the first mine awareness program there, which was called the Mine Awareness Training Team (MATT) and was funded by World Vision Cambodia (WVC). As program manager, it was my job to structure the program, adapting LMAP materials with new designs and approaches. I handed the running of MATT over to the local staff in 1994, and it is still successfully operating. As a consultant to a Cambodian/U.S. government initiative, I used my mine awareness experience to assist with the setting up and training of soldiers from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). I saw the main asset for this program was to create teams that could enter insecure areas where other mine awareness programs cannot go and train those people who are living on the frontline.

More recently, I have volunteered my services to GINIE, an organization set up with support from UNICEF and UNESCO and based at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States. It maintains websites on the Internet that depict mine awareness education materials from around the world. It is also setting up an emergency response group that is connected via e-mail and can give quick responses to any questions or queries that people in the field have on mine awareness issues. As most major cities in the world now have Internet and e-mail access, its use is a practical medium to communicate. It is looking for more organizations to contribute work. If interested, please contact Miki Fukuhara at

Role of Mine Awareness Education in Preventing Injuries

CMAC staff present MA messages.

photo c/o CMAC

In Cambodia, there are more than 40,000 people who are disabled due to landmines. It is estimated that between 100 to 300 people per month step on mines. In October 1995, in just one province of Cambodia, 13 children were killed and injured by mines and UXO. Landmines must be recognized as significant contributors to the ongoing impoverishment of mine-affected communities. They are also a constant source of fear and insecurity for the population. In countries that have been mindlessly sown with landmines, demining is overwhelmingly the most pressing need. But because of the high costs and the time requirement, I see mine awareness as absolutely necessary until the mines cease to be such a threat.

Mine Awareness in Conjunction with Demining Programs

At the rate of current demining in Cambodia, it may take more than 60 years to clear the mines from the most important areas—that is if they stopped laying mines today. Deminers must assess the priority areas and clear these first. For the people living in the lower priority areas, mine awareness is their protection. Mine awareness should never be presented as a 100 percent guarantee that it will stop people from stepping on mines, but it is the safest way for people to negotiate and inhabit dangerous areas. Local people must be aware that it is up to them to protect themselves from becoming another mine victim.

The mine awareness messages must be repeated in many different media forms. People have become accustomed to living in mined areas, and, subsequently, need constant reminders of the dangers. Different groups must be especially targeted. For example, children who have grown up with mines as common objects have little fear of them; young men who think it is brave to be seen handling mines; forest collectors who believe their fates are already destined, and therefore, do not take proper precautions; women who spend most of their time in the villages and have less experience with and knowledge of the mine danger. In Cambodia, people are forced by economics to venture into possible mined areas. In many cases, a safety message such as "Do not enter into known or likely mined areas" is not heeded. Some people have no choice but to enter into known danger areas or they will starve. Children are often in charge of their family's buffalo herd, requiring them to continually venture to new areas to look for more grass, which typically leads them to mined areas as they are the most overgrown. It is at these times that techniques such as recognizing warning clues, retracing footsteps and marking and reporting are useful skills.

Pointing out a mine to a MA leader.

photo c/o CMAC

There is debate as to whether the marking of mined areas is more effective than mine awareness. In Cambodia, this does not seem to be the case. People are suspicious of mine signs and sometimes think that the person erecting the sign is hiding something valuable or that they are claiming the land as their own. Mine signs do not last long in this tropical, termite ridden environment, requiring continual replacement. Also, a mine sign is a valuable sturdy piece of material that has many purposes. I have seen them fashioned into buckets, used to patch roofs, as a hand fan and as children's toys. On the other hand, mine awareness equips the people with survival techniques to use in the field. During my research period, I found that those who survived the longest in the most heavily mined areas were the ones who knew the mine awareness messages and had practiced them. It is essential to equip those living with mines with as many survival techniques as possible.


In LMAP and MATT, we had experienced trainers to instruct the mine awareness teachers of proper procedures and techniques. I tried to hire trained, experienced teachers for the MATT program, never deminers or ex-soldiers. My view is that military personnel already possess too much technical information, in mine awareness terms, which they could, inadvertently, pass on to the villagers. The mine awareness teachers are taught all the information that is necessary for them to pass on safety messages and not any potentially dangerous in-depth technical details. They are instructed in the "Teacher's Notes." If you are ever asked questions that are too technical, relating more to demining or the workings of a mine, you could answer "Sorry, I do not know that information because this is a mine awareness program, not a demining program."

The new recruits were given a two week, in-house training, which covered such topics as comprehending each message, how to correctly deliver the messages, how to use the educational aids, how to answer questions, how to present themselves to the audience, how to promote audience participation and other basic teaching techniques. For the teachers' first sessions, we invited local NGOs and government field workers to our office for training. After several weeks of monitored fieldwork, they were ready to be on their own. As mentioned earlier, it took more than just knowing how to deliver the curriculum before the recruits became effective mine awareness officers.

Field Level Coordination

Just after I started MATT in Cambodia, I performed spot checks on my teams, showing that they were not performing their jobs properly. Most of the staff were ex-refugees, and because of the dependency they developed on foreign assistance, they had little knowledge of work structure and ethics. After I assigned a trustworthy and experienced supervisor, the general day-to-day performances improved. From that time forward, the teams consisted of five people: two teachers, one media assistant, one driver/media assistant and one supervisor.

Job Descriptions

The supervisor's task was to function as a liaison with the authorities, plan the schedule, supervise the staff, discuss local issues with the village headperson, write a report on each village and fill in as a teacher when necessary. The teachers would give formal lessons in different parts of the village, using a combination of silk screens, models, posters and simulations as aids for their presentations. After the formal lessons were over, they would visit homes, gathering small groups for more personalized training. Throughout the day, the media assistants would play the video, display the materials, play games with the children and erect posters. This combination of different mediums and media helped to cater to people's different tastes, reaching many sections of the population. In the formal setting, detailed techniques are delivered in a serious manner, simplified concepts are presented informally as entertainment and printed materials are used as a reference and for studying.

Security Issues

Because of security concerns, the teams would return to the town every night after visiting one village per day. To overcome the problems involved with only day visits (i.e., not reaching people who are out in the field everyday, who consequently, are the ones who need the messages the most), we employed one local person as our village representative. Their job required them to visit all the villages within their local area, play the video, conduct mine awareness lessons at night and update the posters.

The areas that are the most heavily mined are also the areas that are the least secure and prone to bandit and guerrilla attacks; consequently, we equipped each car with a radio for security purposes, which also helped field coordination. I spent a lot of time reminding the teams of the importance of their job, which is to help save people's limbs and lives. As it became clear to them that their suggestions and observations were being listened to and acted upon, they started to take a more personalized interest in the program. Toward the end of my term with the MATT team, the staff had started to develop a pride in their work and were coming up with their own new ideas and initiatives.

Local Cooperation

People have become accustomed to living in mined areas.
photo c/o CMAC

In Cambodia, it was imperative to have the support and cooperation of the local authorities. Visits to all the necessary authorities from the top down had to be made, first by the program manager and then the team supervisors. We provided all the necessary authorities with copies of our printed materials and a T-shirt as a gift. In turn, they encouraged the villagers under their control to attend our lessons, locate the best facilities and sometimes supply lunch for the staff. As the mine issue is too severe for any official to ignore, it was in everyone's interest to allow the program into all accessible areas. In general, it was not too hard to get a reasonable proportion of the village population to attend a session. Some came out of curiosity but most were quite worried about living among mine fields and wanted to learn new techniques to protect themselves.

Appropriate Messages

In general, there were good relations between all the mine awareness programs operating in Cambodia as well as those teaming up for special events and needs, e.g., National Mine Awareness Day and new emergency situations. The program managers meet every month to outline their program's progress and plans for the coming month. This meeting facilitated the exchange of ideas and ensured that we were not doubling up on the teaching and not wasting our resources. Problems with the consistency of the safety messages were experienced after more organizations started new mine awareness programs.


The messages that are now included in the National Cambodian curriculum have come from eight years of testing, information gathering and trial and error. The LMAP Curriculum Developer was from Afghanistan's Operation Salamâs Mine Awareness Programme, and she brought their curriculum, and materials with her. These materials and the curriculum were adapted for a Cambodian audience through questionnaires and interviews. Many of the basic messages, such as "Do not touch," "Ask the locals for the safe path," "Stay on the safe path at all times" and "Retracing footsteps," remained the same as in the Afghan curriculum, and I think are transferable across all mine awareness programs. Despite the similarities, many changes were made to the details and techniques, e.g., mine types, likely mined areas, warning clues, and warning signs.

LMAP was located on the Thai side of the Cambodian border at a time when there was no access to foreigners into Cambodia. So, information on the mine types, warning signs and local habits had to be gathered from Cambodian soldiers, Thai authorities and refugees within Thailand. Some of the information, such as what warning signs they used to indicate a mined area, was not always easy to obtain. When I first arrived in Cambodia, my assistant and I, Mounh Sarath, conducted a three-month survey of the people's mine awareness knowledge who inhabited the most heavily mined areas. The survey confirmed that most of the curriculum points were correct, plus new information was gathered to refine the curriculum. Later, with the help from MAG and CMAC, we combined the MATT curriculum with MAG's to become the national curriculum. The curriculum consisted of a list of main points set out so the teacher can reference them easily during a session. Combined with this list was the "Teacher's Notes," which gave hints on the presentation, encouraging audience participation, necessary technical notes and the background for some of the more complicated concepts, such as fate, magic and karma.


For the children's curriculum, which was used by the MATT Village Representatives in their local schools, we simplified all the messages and cut out some of the more difficult concepts. The following are most of the main points: 1) do not touch Mine/UXO/fuse; 2) recognition; 3) bravery; 4) stay close to your parents when traveling; 5) always tell someone where you are going; 6) do not go off the safe path; 7) do not chase your animal; 8) identify likely mined areas; 9) recognize warning clues and signs; 10) retrace footsteps; and 11) if you cannot see your footsteps, you must stop, call for help and wait.

Mine awareness media event.
photo c/o Tim Grant

The message of "Do Not Touch Mines/UXO" must be stressed repeatedly to the children. Surveys have shown that a significant number of child injuries and deaths come from playing with mines/UXO. Children are naturally curious and tend to touch things despite what they are told. Making the "Do Not Touch" message into a catchy tune can help the children to remember and heed this main message. Taking into account that a child's most common chore is to herd the animals and collect firewood, the next most important message is to stress should be how to identify the most likely mine areas, how to recognize warning clues, how to recognize warning signs and how to retrace your footsteps out of a mine field.

First Aid

The same problems arose with first aid. There is strong debate about the details of first aid training and whether it should be taught at all. Some medical people think that no one should be taught to apply a tourniquet to stop bleeding, as tourniquets can be very dangerous and may cause more damage because it will stop the blood from getting to the tissue below the tourniquet. Many people lose more of their limb than necessary because their rescuers do not know that the tourniquet must be released. In most cases, applying a compress to the wound can stop bleeding. Their views have come from experiencing many cases where whole legs have had to be amputated because the tourniquet was not released to allow bleeding (there is a huge difference in quality of life between an above-knee amputee and a below-knee amputee). On the other hand, other medical people say that the tourniquet should be used because as many people die from a loss of blood on the way to hospital as from improperly applied tourniquets.

The MATT staff thought it was Khmer folklore to automatically apply a tourniquet; so, it is better to teach the people to apply a tourniquet the correct way. In case they do apply the tourniquet unnecessarily, they would then know to release it after a proper period of time to save the rest of the limb. In this case, they decided to stop teaching the tourniquet method and change the curriculum to instruct people to apply a firmly tied bandage compressed around the wound but with a reference to the tourniquet. If you cannot stop the bleeding by this method, only then is it necessary to use a tourniquet. First aid was also not taught to the children and is given only to the adults at the end of the instruction on mine field rescue procedures (i.e., prodding).

Real Mines and UXO vs. Models

Mine awareness session.
photo c/o Tim Grant

I have seen real mines and UXO being used in a formal setting for identification purposes and felt it went against the messages. At one session, a UNTAC soldier had approximately 20 active mines laid out on a bench in front of the audience. During the lesson, a small child wandered up and went up to touch a mine; her mother managed to pull her away just in time. Later, when he was demonstrating how booby traps work, he removed the pin from a grenade before he placed it in a tin can. This action caused most people in the room discomfort. I think his view was that using real ordnance is the only way to ensure good clear identification, and the adults would understand that they are experts in handling ordnance and that these particular models are perfectly safe. The opposing view is that mine awareness staff should set good examples by not touching or carrying any mines/UXO (even wooden models) in the presence of their students. Most of the mine awareness staff are not demining experts and do not know how to handle a mine. A "live" mine may accidentally get mixed up with the "free from explosives" mines, and even experts are not immune to accidents—there are many stories of experts accidentally triggering mines. Though identification is important, to identify every mine found in Cambodia may be an information overload (in the UNTAC case, most of the mines were bounding mines, which, to a lay-person, all look similar). If people have a good idea about what the most common types of mines look like, around 13 types, it should be sufficient for their needs.


The LMAP Curriculum Developer, Anne Campbell, patiently taught me the basic do' s and don'ts of education materials design. We spent many hours cutting and pasting the designs. All the unnecessary background imagery that the artist put in "to make it attractive" had to be cut out. The lines at the sides of the safe paths were thickened so that the people at the back of the groups would understand its importance. The size of these screens works well in most of the groups that LMAP and MATT have taught, though they are a little small for teaching larger groups. The designs were always tested on target audiences, passed by technical experts and other relevant people before the final draft was completed.

Since those early days, the curriculum content, educational aid designs and program structure have become an ongoing process of change, according to the new information that has been regularly gathered from experts and those people living in and around the mine fields. New materials were being developed at different stages of the programs to continually reinforce the messages as we visited the most heavily affected areas on several occasions and to retain interest with new attractions. I used equipment and materials that were durable and long-lasting, with most being made by staff or locally produced. This task provided the staff with opportunities to learn new skills and to ensure the option for them to continue if and when funding is cut or pulled out. For the electronic equipment, it always proved more efficient and cost saving in the long-term to purchase the best quality items, and the staff were always encouraged to clean, maintain and repair the materials and equipment immediately when needed to ensure the equipment's life span.

Because of the 30 percent illiteracy rate, all materials were designed to be understood without the aid of the written word. There was a lot of debate about the content of each organization's program's aids and printed materials. It is a difficult area because it involves strong criticism and artistic egos. After working on a design for an extended time, it is sometimes difficult to consider changes or scrapping the design completely. There was endless debate among the Khmer staff in Cambodia over the correct wording and terminology used on the printed materials. This debate was partially solved by drafting a Mine Awareness Terminology Glossary, though debate over the issue still surfaces occasionally.

Other difficulties came from the accurate depiction of local characters in the illustrations. Foreign artists did not always depict the characters in their works accurately, but despite the majority of the artists being local, most were from cities and had "modern views" on what a country person should look like. It could help to draft some clear guidelines on how to develop and test materials. Outlined steps for conducting material testing, how to analyze the results and who are the necessary experts to check the technical details could be useful for field staff. These guidelines would have to be written as simply as possible because many of the field staff may not be highly educated.

Assessment and Evaluation

Accident statistics could not be used to gauge the effectiveness of the mine awareness programs because the hospitals did not kept accurate records and most deaths in the field went unreported, though more reliable mine incident statistics are now being kept and used in Cambodia. The LMAP program was evaluated and tested on a number of occasions by the Curriculum Developer. At the start of the LMAP Program, we surveyed and ascertained that many people did not know what a mine looks like; what sets a mine off and how they kill; the signs to indicate the presence of mines; safe behaviors around mines; what they should do if they see a mine; how to get out of or rescue someone from a mined area; and how to treat someone injured by a mine blast. During the final assessment of the program, the results showed a vast increase in people's mine awareness knowledge (the survey results are not available).

To evaluate what impact MATT training was having on the population, I directed the staff to hand out periodical questionnaires. The people from villages that had not received any MATT training would be questioned on their mine awareness knowledge. Around three months after the MATT teams had trained the village, they
returned and asked the villagers the same questions to reassess their knowledge. The surveys showed that there was an increase in their mine awareness knowledge in most areas, especially in the areas of mine recognition (an increase of 26 percent), marking a location (35 percent), understanding a tilt/touch mechanism (20 percent). Also, we found there were a few areas that required concentration, e.g., understanding a tilt/touch mechanism (although there was an increase in knowledge in the overall numbers, 41 percent of those surveyed knew about it, this percent was still too low), using tied grass as a warning signs (only 26 percent of those surveyed knew this sign), how to retrace your footsteps (24 percent of the people who were asked to show how to retrace did not do it efficiently) and the prodding technique (only 28 percent could prod correctly, 44 percent said they did not know how and 24 percent prodded incorrectly). After receiving the results of this survey, some changes were made to the curriculum and new materials were designed and produced.

The MATT staff were encouraged to record any information they learned or heard in the field about mines, mine awareness points, problems encountered and the effect mines were having on the people's lives. One of the staff members, Phan Sokha, was an accomplished writer and reported in detail many new and relevant facts. The staff knew well that any negative information they gathered would not be taken as an assessment of their own personal performances but as an indication that an area may need change and improvement.

Integration with Related Programs

None of the programs I worked in were, at the time, linked to demining or development programs. The refugee camps with which LMAP worked were strictly controlled—free trade was officially banned and movement by the refugees outside the camp was illegal. We could not consider any link to development and there were no demining programs operating there. When MATT started in Cambodia, demining programs were just setting up and the NGO's role was limited. MATT was the first mine awareness program to operate in the country and was started as an emergency response group with no links to other programs. After around two years of operation and after all the most heavily mined areas had been visited on several occasions, we decided that the emergency status of MATT had passed. This decision was made at the end of my contract, so I have not been involved in the changes. Since then the MATT teams have been integrated as part of the World Vision's Income Generation Program, but I do not have details on the structure or details on its operation. (To obtain information, please contact Mounh Sarath, c/ WVC Battambang, Cambodia).

Towards the end of my time with MATT, I proposed to restructure the program to have the teams spend at least one week in each village giving formal lessons. in addition to the most important task, conducting in-depth discussions with the villagers to find out how they could best help them meet their main needs and problems. This could require marking off certain areas, quickly clearing some easily located mines, placing a high priority order on the demining in that area, concentrating on specific messages or focusing on particular target groups.

In Cambodia, it is necessary to take time to establish a relationship with the villagers before they will open up to you. Barriers such as large flash cars, expensive watches and short-wave radios need to be broken down. It may take several casual informal talks before the full details start to emerge. Then the mine awareness teams could evaluate that particular village's requirements and act as a link to the services available (i.e., demining, marking, new materials development) and advise the villagers how they can continue these contacts in the future. Other information such as the village's history of mine incidences and the mapping of the exact locations of the surrounding mined areas could also be made and then passed to the relevant organizations. The staff should be well aware not to make false promises to the villages about what services are available or what they can do for them.


In summing up, I would like to emphasize some of my main points. I feel that to have a successful program you must be flexible and willing to modify your materials whenever conflict and/or new information is received. The mine awareness staff should be continually asking questions, evaluating and assessing the experts about technical issues, the villagers on their reaction to the training and materials and the people who work in the field/forests for feedback about needs and habits. This information must be checked, discussed and acted upon. No matter how hard you try, it is easy to make mistakes. Do not think that if you make mistakes or miss some vital information that your program is a failure. It may take many years of field experience before you can feel your program materials are 100 percent correct.

If you are a foreigner working in another country, it is important to make sure the messages are adapted for a local audience. This modification will involve collecting information and working closely with the local staff. For example, when my mine awareness programs first started, I was instructed not to include any blood or gore in my images because some of the U.N. staff thought it may be offensive to the local people. After working with Cambodians for a period of time, I found that the most popular and effective images are those depicting graphic details about what happens if you do not follow the safety messages.

It is imperative that all relevant information you collect is shared openly with the other mine awareness programs operating in the country. Do not fall into the trap that some agencies do of holding back information and being territorial. You cannot forget the reasons that you are doing mine awareness is to save people's limbs and lives, not to start an empire or to be the biggest and best mine awareness program in the country. It is better to share your designs with the other agencies and ask for feedback before the printing stage. It is better to try to get it right the first time and respect the experience and ideas from the other programs. Do not forget to follow your own advice when you are in the fields and among villagers. Be careful of mines.

Contact Information

Tim Grant