Meet Cambodia's Creative Entrepreneur Who Helps Deminers
During my recent trip to Cambodia, I embraced the opportunity to learn more about the people, their past, and their present. Notably, the most impactful pieces of information I gathered concerns Cambodia’s suppressive history such as the grievous reign of the Khmer Rouge and the decades-long war.
The imposition of brutal warfare left Cambodia infested with landmines. Many have gone undiscovered and have yet to destruct. One of the most important things to know about mines is their structure: some landmines are made to kill, but most are made to wound. As a result, over 60,000 Cambodian people have been either killed or disabled, and children account for up to 50 percent of those casualties. While the number is still uncertain, there are an estimated four to six million active mines that need to be removed.
While the efforts of the Khmer Rouge and past wartime have undoubtedly damaged the lives of many Cambodians, the people are not broken. This, and ultimately this, is what makes Cambodia a place of hope and love. I saw first-hand the people’s desire and collaborative effort to reverse aggressive strains and create a life of safety and normalcy for each civilian. I met one man who has made it his mission to contribute to landmine removal.
In his project Forks for Folks, Shin Koshirakawa crafts high-quality forks, knives, spoons, and cutlery pieces made from old Cambodian militant weapons, sells them, then puts the money towards meals. These meals go to deminers to fuel them for their exhausting mission ahead.
They go to the minefield every day. It’s just like we go to school and office. The difference is that they might die that day. - Shin Koshirakawa
Shin says that deminers have to work in extremely uncomfortable conditions wearing heavy safety equipment, weighing over 22 lbs in scorching heat, sometimes up to 104 F. They have to concentrate long hours and maintain focus for long days over the course of many months. Some of these workers are married, some have children, but all of them are trained locals with immense pride to restore peaceful grounds.
So why use bullets and not disarmed landmines to make cutlery? According to Shin, restructuring a landmine for reuse is not as feasible as he had hoped. If you ever decide to visit Cambodia's Landmine Museum, as I did, you will see hundreds of deactivated landmines enclosed in glass cases. Although they have been disarmed, mines are inevitably unpredictable and delicate weapons. Therefore, he and his team use discarded Cambodian military equipment such as bullet shells. Shin says that the use of these weapons are still "symbolic" and practical.
Shin is passionate about his project, and before he started Forks for Folks, he would buy meals with his own money and give them to the deminers. He, and so many other Cambodians, immensely respect the locals who risk their lives to remove these mines. Shin hopes to expand cutlery sales to other parts of the world to continue to help deminers and potentially increase employment in Cambodia through Forks for Folks.