“We work every day, even in the heat of the sun and in the rain. But that’s okay, we can handle it!” says 30-year-old Liv Chanra, smiling.
A female deminer on MAG’s Research and Development (R&D) Team 4, Chanra has worked for MAG Cambodia for two years. During her break she is sitting on a bench happily chatting away to her colleagues, enjoying some time in the shade before going back to work.
Doing each other’s hair, I ask them how they feel about being female deminers. Laughing, she looks at me and says, “Well we find our ways to stay feeling like women, even here when we are in the field all day.
“We spend a little bit of our salary on getting fresh cucumbers and bananas so we can make facials during the break times, and we have some lotions and face powders to still feel pretty. It’s hard though, to feel too pretty when we’re working, but we do each other’s nails and hair, and that’s a really nice time for us.
“We can relax, not think or talk about work for a short while, and catch up with one another to hear about family news or the gossip from home before we put our PPE [personal protective equipment] back on and go back into the field.”
Sometimes the ladies even do the men’s nails, though not very willingly from the looks on the men’s faces when I enquire about this…
R&D Team 4 deminer Sao Kimyan, who is 25, says she finds it frustrating sometimes to not be able to look nice all week long, but at the weekend all this changes: “Well when the weekend comes, we definitely dress nicely. We all get very fancy and have full make-up and our hair done.
“We all live together away from home when we’re in the field, so we can help each other get ready. Even if there are not many places to go, it’s still fun and makes us feel happy.”
Cambodia is a traditional country, and very family-orientated, with young Cambodian women not usually living away from home for such long periods of time. The ladies explain that this was not easy for their relatives to understand at first.
“We had to explain to our families that we were safe, not just from landmines because we follow strict Standard Operating Procedures and safety lessons, but that we were not alone and vulnerable. They know now we can perfectly well survive, even far from our parents, and this job is good for us as we get trained to understand everything.
“Sometimes this means we are even better at using the detectors, and we are more organised than even the male deminers!”
The male deminers watching our chat look on, smiling, and say they cannot deny that this is often true. It seems the ladies of the MAG Cambodia programme are staying happy, feminine and firmly in control!
For more information about MAG’s work in Cambodia please go to www.maginternational.org/cambodia.