The McMahan Center Abilities Activists was inspired to start a vocational training program for amputees in Cambodia after reading a May 20, 2003 article by Seth Mydans, foreign correspondent for the New York Times, entitled: "What war wrought, Cambodia can't stand to see". The article focused on the village of Veal Thom, which was formed by landmine survivors as a place where they could live and work together productively with a minimum of the prejudice and disenfranchisement that the disabled often face.
Every family in Veal Thom has at least one person who is a landmine survivor or has some other disability. By forming a village of their own, these survivors hoped to restore their own (read Veal Thom Profiles) dignity and provide for their families. David Bruce McMahan, philanthropist, was impressed by the villagers' eagerness to focus on what they were able to do instead of what they were no longer able to do as a result of their injuries.
McMahan Abilities Activists joined forces with the World Rehabilitation Fund to design and implement a peer-to-peer vocational training program following a model that was developed by the International Labour Organzation, that had been successful in several communities for the villagers of Veal Thom, most of whom had been trained as soldiers and had little experience with farming. The staff at World Rehabilitation Fund, including Touj Soeurly and Chhem Sip take tea Touj Soeurly and Chhem Sip in Veal Thom Jack Victor, (current WRF President), Heather Burns-Knierim (former President of the World Rehabilitation Fund), Allyson Brown (PACE Project Coordinator) and Chhem Sip (WRF Country Representative) had already had a history of working with landmines victims in Mozambique and Sierra Leone, as well as Cambodia.
The PACE Program was designed to empower the community as a whole. Over the next four years, over four hundred villagers were trained in the program organized by Chhem Sip and implemented by three field workers, Sarim Um, Chreung Kao and Samkhan Soeur, and two agricultural trainers. The process generated a training film, Cambodia: Living with Landmines, and a documentary, Bare Hands and Wooden Limbs, for general audiences which focuses on the unlikely cooperation between Touj Soeurly, a former Khmer Rouge colonel, and Chhem Sip, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge era.
Yvette Marrin Ph.D. is President of McMahan Center Abilities Activists.