A Landmine Awareness Photography Exhibition in Phnom Penh

A father gazes at a landmine awareness exhibition in downtown Phnom Penh while his son curiously watches onlookers.

While walking along Phnom Penh’s riverside, we happened upon a landmine awareness photography exhibition.

This child’s lively eyes and curious gaze caught my attention. His peaceful spirit contrasted sharply with the cruel creations depicted in the images at which his father was intently gazing.

I was struck by this second image as well. Above the display, one can see traditional Khmer structures and a shrimp-colored sunset in the background. Mingled with the graceful, beautiful architecture lie the landmines displayed underneath – symbolic of Cambodia where it is estimated that 20% of villages are still contaminated by minefields.

– – –

Despite its rebound from decades of civil war, Cambodia is still plagued by landmines.  It is estimated that 40,000 amputees reside there. The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) estimates that there may be as many as 4 -6 million mines and unexploded ordnance in Cambodia.

Sadly, many amputees roam the streets of capital city, Phnom Penh, either begging for money, or trying to sell their wares (paperback books, postcards, etc.). We bought two hand-painted postcards from a man who called himself Tom, who was missing both of his arms. Remarkably, Tom was able to manipulate the wares in his basket with the stumps of his arms. He had a warm smile and energetic spirit and he waved at us whenever we crossed paths with him on the street.

Shawn and I visited the Landmine Museum outside of Siem Reap. I’ll be posting on that nonprofit’s noble aims and our visit there shortly.

Where in the World?

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All rights reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

14 thoughts on “A Landmine Awareness Photography Exhibition in Phnom Penh

  1. I worked with Cambodian refugees earlier on in my career. They’re such a gentle people and I truly admire their friendliness and determination despite adversities. The issue of unexploded ordnance is a constant threat and a violation of their right to un-impeded access to their land. Thanks for sharing, Tricia. Your photos are full of meaning.

    1. Jessie, what a compliment! I’m glad that you found these images meaningful! Though I strive to share images of the beautiful places we visit, I also think it’s important to raise awareness about important issues.

      In which capacity did you work in Cambodia? It must have been a very rewarding career chapter for you!

      1. Tricia, my exposure to Khmers was in what was called the Philippine Refugee Processing Center which was run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) way back in the 80’s. I was initially a trainer and eventually managed a program for the boat people including Khmers, Laotians and Vietnamese in preparation for their eventual resettlement in a third country (US, etc.). During the peak of the operation, we had an average of 17,000 refugees at a time, many of them Cambodians and many of them can recall the horrors of unexploded ordnance among the many horrible experiences and atrocities in their country. That’s why I found meaning in your photos. Thanks for trying to raise the awareness of your readers on this issue. Regards.

  2. Jessie, I admire the work you did with the refugees; what sorts of topics did you train on?

    I have now visited Cambodia twice. During each visit I’ve been struck by the fact that seemingly everyone I met could recount ways in which their family was somehow impacted by the civil wars and genocide. Their strength and ability to move on – despite such adversity – is admirable. While in Cambodia, I read the book “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.” It’s a powerful book written from a child’s perspective. It was rather eerie reading a chapter, then looking out into the now-peaceful fields and imagining what took place there a few decades ago.

    1. Hi, Tricia. English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) was the main content of the training with added input on Cultural Orientation for their country of destination (mostly the U.S.) and some work orientation and vocational skills training.

      After escaping the horrible conditions in Cambodia, many of the refugee boat people suffered and died during their escape, spending months in the jungles of Thailand or several weeks at sea with no food or water and facing a constant threat from pirates. There were some cases of cannibalism — another controversial issue which was very difficult to handle considering the conditions they were in. Despite all these, Cambodians were the most gentle and soft-spoken people among our Indochinese caseload.

      Yes, I can imagine the eerie feeling just to look at what was once the ‘killing fields’. Hearing all the horrible stories from my students, I was shivering and teary-eyed the first time I visited the fields of Cambodia in ’97. Regards.

      1. Jessie, thanks so much for sharing your experiences and insight about working with the Indochinese refugees. I have an uplifting profile post I’ll be sharing about two wonderful Cambodians we stayed with over Christmas. The work the couple’s doing is one of the success stories as Cambodia continues to recover from several tough decades. Until next time!

  3. My best friend from high school, her father was a victim of one of those landmines and lost one leg. They came to New York as refugees along with some of her old neighbors, and struggled financially throughout. To this day she still can’t bring herself to go back to Cambodia. I have been wanting to do a big trip to Southeast Asia and I’ve asked her a couple of times, but the reply is still no. It is eerie like you said because of how peaceful Cambodia seems now, but I feel like to her, she has no positive memories of her country and she’d rather leave it alone. I’m hoping one day she can come to terms with her unfortunate experience.

    1. Antoinette, it’s tragic to hear of stories such as this one you’ve shared. I hope that your friend and her family members are now leading happier lives, following such difficult times. The book that I mentioned earlier (in this comment thread to Jessie) was a powerful read to me. After finishing it, I was stuck by the young author’s strength – and how she’s overcome her own difficult personal experience in Cambodia. I suppose every individual has a different way of coping. Perhaps some day your friend will wish to explore her country’s cultural beauty and heritage. The people that we met in Cambodia were so warm, so engaging, so strong, even despite loss.

      I’ll be soon sharing a profile of a wonderful Cambodian couple, as well as of inspirational Cambodian high school children that we met a few weeks ago. I hope that the post will show that despite the painful past, there are people with much hope and determination in Cambodia!

      Thanks so much for sharing your comment, Antoinette! I hope you make it on that grand tour of SE Asia someday soon. This sure is a beautiful part of the world.

  4. Tricia, I so appreciate the information you share on your blog. Sometimes it’s easy to forget while traveling that there are larger issues present and that we need to be informed and participants (I like your term!) in our travels. Thank you! Steph

    1. Steph, welcome and thank you! As someone who’s been able to travel extensively, I feel it’s a responsibility of sorts to share what I’ve learned – all with the hope of making the world a better place. I look forward to seeing where your future travels take you and your family. Do you have anything in particular planned?

      1. Hi Tricia,
        Thank you for response! I so appreciate and respect your philosophy of sharing what you learn. It’s essential that people know and respect other cultures. That is one of the reasons I want to travel with my kids. I really believe that travel is an essential part of education. We live in a small mountain town in Colorado and it’s pretty WASPy so I want to expose my kids to different culture.

        For a few years, I’ve been pretty obsessed with Southeast Asia. I would love to go to Myanmar — it would be so interesting to see the country opening up from its oppression. I also really want to get to Vietnam and Cambodia. Ohh…the list goes on. I really like checking out your blog and traveling vicariously through your posts! Thank you. Steph

  5. Hi Tricia, thanks for sharing this. Do you happen to recall who the artist/photographer was that created the exhibition?

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