It was the morning of November 24th, 2022. Sunshine streaming in through the cracks in the overcast sky, it was getting brighter by the minute. The location is Banteay Meanchey Province, in the northwestern part of Cambodia on the border with Thailand.
The opening ceremony of Komatsu Sraloa Chrum Primary School was about to start. The 10th school built by Komatsu’s Cambodia Demining and Reconstruction Project is a testament to the reconstruction of the area, that the land has been cleared of landmines and made safe again.
400 people were gathered to witness this memorable event. Children, teachers, local residents, as well as members of the reconstruction project and government officials from Banteay Meanchey Province. The ceremony opened with ribbon-cutting, followed by a chorus of the national anthem, and then by a speech from Komatsu CEO Hiroyuki Ogawa. Children dressed in white shirts listened, fidgeting and giggling, with smiles brighter than ever.
The area is still contaminated with landmines and unexploded ordnance from the violent civil war that broke out in the 1970s.
According to data collected between 2017 and 2020, there are still approximately 4 million landmines and more than 2,000 km2 of contaminated land throughout Cambodia.
There used to be a shack that served as a school building, but it had no toilets and was becoming dilapidated. And because it was located on relatively low land, the entire area flooded when it rained.
“We couldn't study on rainy days. When it rained too hard, the school might collapse so everyone was too scared to enter the school building.” Children told us.
In 2008, Komatsu launched the Cambodia Demining and Reconstruction Project as a social contribution together with the Japan Mine Action Support Association (JMAS), a certified non-profit organization supported by the Japanese government.
In cooperation with the Cambodia Mine Action Centre (CMAC), the project works with local people to rebuild their communities, not only by removing landmines but also by supporting construction of roads, schools and other infrastructure and farmland development. The activities are supported by anti-personnel demining machines developed based on Komatsu's construction equipment.
In the past, landmine clearance had basically been a manual procedure, searching for mines with a metal detector and then neutralizing them. With the introduction of anti-personnel demining machines, it has become safer for workers. The machines’ speed of demining is 25 to 50 times faster than manual work, and nearly 1 hectare of land can be cleared safely in 4 to 5 days.
After the demining work is done, bulldozers level the ground to a precision made possible by the ICT functions installed. We have heard that in some cases, the rice harvest has doubled thanks to the precise leveling.
As the ceremony neared its end, there was a gift of a song from the older children. They had practiced hard for the ceremony. And after the ceremony, the exchange party began.
"My favorite part of the day will be studying in my new classroom." said Sreynut, a 6th grader. Her classmate Theara’s eyes lit up as he told us, "I am happy that I can study even when it rains. When I grow up, I want to be an engineer.”
The words of the principal of the school were filled with hope. “The new school building has changed the children's expressions and I can sense their enthusiasm for learning. I hope they will continue their studies, become fine members of society, and carve out their own futures."
By clearing landmines, the land will become safe, safe roads will pass through it, farmland and schools will be built. People will come back, and communities will grow and thrive.
Children wore fresh Komatsu caps at the ceremony. Their smiles, shining even brighter in the sunlight, seemed to reflect the bright future of Cambodia.