Today we visited Apopo, an NGO that uses a certain breed of rats to detect and eventually clear land mines throughout Cambodia. Following the conflicts of the country’s past (bombings and wars), there are still an immense amount of land mines that pose a threat to the lives of innocent civilians and the development of the country as a whole.
Prior to coming here, I knew nothing about the dangers of land mines even 50 years after a conflict, nor the significance of them in relation to Cambodia’s past, present, and future. Going to Apopo forced me to reflect upon these impacts from a personal perspective. I continue to be shocked by the strength and resilience of Cambodians who live their lives despite the immense amount of destruction of culture and land they have experienced.
Following the visit our group had a discussion about the impact that this learning had on us. We were asked to reflect upon our own anti-personal landmines; the walls that we put up in our hearts in order to avoid feeling what others feel. Even when visiting a place like Cambodia and learning about issues like senseless bombings and genocides, these anti-personal landmines allow us to ignore and to forget.
Frankly, it is easy for us to label, stereotype, and disregard the issues that are happening around us. It is much harder to show compassion and further to show a level of understanding and feeling. We have been here not even a week, and I think we are beginning to do so in a way that shows growth, development, and maturity. As Albert Einstein said, “A human being experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”