Fact-finding visit to Cambodia a success

Two members of the Find A Better Way team, CEO Lou McGrath and fundraising adviser John Wallace, have returned from Cambodia after a successful fact-finding mission to the southeast Asian nation.

After the the launch of the first Sir Bobby Charlton Centre in Amman, Jordan in 2017, Find A Better Way were keen to open a second centre as soon as possible. Since founder Sir Bobby Charlton was originally inspired to help “find a better way” to help landmine blast survivors and their communities following a 2007 visit to Cambodia, it seemed fitting to open the second Sir Bobby Charlton Centre where the charity’s mission began.

Lou and John arrived in the capital Phnom Penh at the beginning of March for a two week visit. Their tour included stops to 18 different, locally run charity initiatives. Each has a unique way of helping locals cope with the complex problems arising from landmines and unexploded cluster munitions, which are left over from the many different conflicts during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Many of the most populated parts of Cambodia have been successfully cleared of explosives, a new wave of problems has arisen as the country has become more economically prosperous. The growing populations and rising costs in the cities are forcing poorer Cambodians back into the countryside, often to areas where landmines and cluster munitions have not been cleared.

With the problems increasingly focused on poorer more isolated regions, more and more help is needed to support blast survivors and their communities.

‘When we came to Cambodia, John and I were hoping to find one great local charity partner to work with,’ Lou explained. ‘But soon after we arrived we realised the problem would not be finding a single partner, but choosing which of the many worthwhile projects we could support.

‘Every day we met real heroes struggling with nearly impossible situations and with diminishing funding. John and I would say to each other, ‘this must be the one,’ but then a few hours later we would visit another local group doing something equally admirable and important.’

The types of challenges Cambodians are facing varies by region. John and Lou visited a hospital in Kratie in the east where unexploded cluster munitions dropped by American bombers are the main problem. Although deadly, these ‘bomblets’ are normally on the surface and can be avoided with education.

In the northwest, it is buried landmines that are the main problem, and this leads to more complex challenges.

Lou explained, ‘Landmines do much more than just maim and kill innocent people. When you suspect there are landmines in a field, that field becomes off-limits until it is cleared. This means it cannot be farmed or used for housing. Not having access to land creates severe economic pressures that affect everyone in a local area.’

Now back in the UK, Lou and John are reviewing their notes from their visit and will be making a recommendation to the Find A Better Way board soon. Stay tuned for future updates.