Prosthetics and Rehabilitation Program in Cambodia
The American Red Cross Office of International Services

The American Red Cross has been working in Kompong Speu province since 1991 and is currently active in three program sectors: Rehabilitation and prosthetics, health care training and hospital support, and technical assistance to the Cambodian Red Cross.

Since 1991 the American Red Cross has provided over 1,200 prosthetic devices to land mine victims and disabled Cambodians, initiated intensive training for Cambodian technicians in prosthetics production, provided technical program support to the Kompong Speu Provincial Hospital, including a range of surgical and nursing clinical training programs to staff in the hospital, and provided technical assistance to the Ministry's of Health, and Social Affairs, Labor and Veterans' Affairs (MSALVA).

More than 35,000 Cambodians are now amputees due to land mine injuries and the incidence of new victims has risen to a national average of close to 500 land mine injuries per month. The impact of this problem is immense and widespread, with severe psychological and economic repercussions.

The American Red Cross has built a fully operational prosthetics workshop adjacent to the hospital to produce an average of 60 prosthetic devices and wheelchairs a month, and worked closely with the MSALVA and Provincial Rehabilitation Department to provide training to local Cambodians with the goal of developing a cadre of trained prosthetic technicians who will be able to take over the project. Also planned is a provincial model to serve as a structure for national goals for vocational training and income generation for amputees and other disabled persons.

Throughout the country, the provision of rehabilitation services to war wounded and civilian amputees remains 100% dependent upon external funding and non-governmental organizations.

[Wounded novice monk on hospital bed]

On May 16, 1995, an anti-personnel mine blew off seventeen year old novice monk Vung's leg and blew up his life. Born and raised in Oral district, Kompong Speu Province, Cambodia, Vung grew up with all the local "survival rules" which have been in effect these past twenty years of civil war--never cross an open field only follow well-traveled paths with recent tracks, don't kick or touch anything sticking out of the ground-basic rules which local infants are taught along with their first tottering baby steps in this province littered with land mines and unexploded war weapons. Vung was one youth who followed these basic rules to the letter as he walked home from a local wedding on a well-used path and thought he was okay--until the blast of an anti-personnel mine threw him to the ground and left him lying with his left leg shredded from the knee down.

In Vung's home province of Kompong Speu, Cambodia, one of every 351 persons is an amputee. One of every fifty-four persons is disabled. At the current rate of land mine injuries and deaths in 1995 alone, it is expected that up to 480 more men, women, and children will be killed or maimed by the end of this year. Each one of these people will be the victim of a weapon which lies in wait for an unsuspecting child or adult to step on it--a weapon which cannot distinguish between combatant and non-combatant, cannot distinguish child from soldier, a weapon which violates the very essence of the international humanitarian law which is supposed to protect children like Vung from the weapons which injure and kill indiscriminately.

Vung was luckier than some Cambodian land mine victims who often lie on provincial paths for hours, sometimes days, waiting for assistance. Local soldiers heard the blast and came to his assistance and got him to the Buddhist pagoda where he is a novice. There the monks collected money to pay for a motorcycle taxi, and sped him to the provincial hospital where local surgeons amputated his left leg to save his life. One of six children in his family, Vung hopes to return to the monkhood after his recovery.

There are provisions under international humanitarian law which are meant to protect civilians like Vung from the war weapons which cannot discriminate between enemy soldier or a novice child monk walking home from a wedding:

  • parties shall at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants order to spare the civilian population
  • civilians shall not be the object of attack
  • indiscriminate attacks and use of indiscriminate weapons are forbidden
  • it is prohibited to employ weapons or methods of warfare of a nature to cause unnecessary losses or suffering
  • States have a responsibility to ensure that the use of a new weapon being developed or acquired is not prohibited by the rules of international humanitarian law¹.

The anti-personnel mine which blew off Vung's leg is in direct violation of the international humanitarian law provisions meant to protect him and the estimated 9,000 other Cambodians who will be injured or killed this year in Cambodia. It is estimated that one million or more of these mines are now scattered throughout the Cambodian countryside indiscriminately, unmarked-on village paths, in rice fields, and on dirt roads which civilian men, women, and children must negotiate daily in their everyday lives.

If young Vung survives, he will be one of the over 1900 war-disabled patients served at the American Red Cross-supported Rehabilitation Center in Kompong Speu, Cambodia. If he dies, he will become one more child who tried to have a normal life in Cambodia, but failed because of the indiscriminate use of land mines in civilian populated areas of Cambodia in violation of international humanitarian law.

[Committee ¹Summary of the relevant provisions of the 1977 Protocols additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, of the Hague Conventions of 1907, and of international customary law, ICRC.
[Humanity in the midst of war: Red Cross]

The American Red Cross thanks USAID, AusAID, Australian Red Cross, Swiss Red Cross, ICRC and Church World Services for their support to the Kompong Speu Prosthetics Project.

You can help provide urgently needed humanitarian assistance to the victims in Cambodia and other international crises by making a donation to the American Red Cross/ international Response Fund. You may do so by calling 1-800-HELP NOW in the U.S., or sending a check to: American Red Cross, International Response Fund, PO Box 37243, Washington DC 20013, USA

For more information contact:

Head of Delegation
American Red Cross - Cambodia
P.O. Box 535, Central Post Office
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
Tel: (855-23) 62105
Fax: (855-18) 810254

Associate, Asia & Pacific
Office of International Services
American Red Cross NHQ
2025 E. Street NW
Washington D.C. 20006, USA
Tel: (1-202)728 6641
Fax: (1-202)728 6404

This is a free service to the American Red Cross - Cambodia, courtesy of Cambodian Information Center.
Disign and maintenance courtesy of Thappanika K. Ang