Interview: Atsushi Nagira, Cambodia Reconstruction Assistance Project Manager

In my department, there was only my boss and myself.

When I joined Komatsu in 1990, I was first assigned to the Construction Machinery R&D Department. One of the projects I worked on was the development of equipment to support landmine clearing. I was very interested in exploring how construction machinery can adapted to contribute more to the cause of peace. About 15 years ago, it was decided to set up a department dedicated to mine clearing equipment. The entire department was just my boss and myself. I felt that this was job I must do: putting construction machines to work for the betterment of society.

My first time in Cambodia, my first minefield.

The first time I went to Cambodia was in 1998. We went to test our equipment so it was necessary to enter an actual minefield. At that time, the Cambodian civil war had just ended, and smiling faces were a rare sight, and many were facing food shortages. I can still recall the fear and anxiety of first stepping into the minefield. At that time, mine detection and clearance was done manually. I wondered why humans had to undertake this task. It is enormously time-consuming work in unbearable heat. I knew that it should be done by machine and that only Komatsu with its earth-moving technology could do it.

To teach the local people.

Our job was to train local staff how to use our anti-personnel landmine clearing machines and maintain them. At first, it was a struggle, but with patience and communication, we overcame every challenge. I could see them coming to the realization that this work would truly be their job and their own responsibility. It took 5 or maybe even 10 years, but I was happy with the results. I believe that the growth and development of people such as those we trained will lead to the country getting better and better. 
“The impact and cooperation provided by JMAS (Japan Mine Action Support Association) was also huge. They not only shared their wealth of knowledge about landmine clearing, but also brought a lot of reconstruction experience to our collaboration. Also the cooperation of CMAC (Cambodia Mine Clearance Center) was indispensable. The history of our past journey together is a big support and source of encouragement today.

That little boy is now a university student.

“Our job is to survey minefields, clear the land of mines, and then restore and rebuild roads, schools, and farmlands. I immersed myself in this job. The next time I looked up from my tasks, I was astonished to see students of the school we had built more than 10 years ago now studying at university. Their story starts in a place where minefields were once a part of everyday life. Now they are attending university. It’s amazing. When I talk to their parents, I can get a glimpse of how hard their lives have been. Just surviving the war took all they could do. Back then, they never dreamed of going to college. Now peace has finally come, and their children are studying hard. Though poor and having struggled for so long, these fathers and mothers are ready to do whatever it takes to get their kids to university. Of course, the children also see their parents and all they have done for them. That's why they are really studying hard while working to help at home.”

Our work may change people’s lives.

When I look back on the 15 years I've devoted to this project, I sometimes wonder, ‘How do I describe the job I’m doing?’ However, when I witness the vitality of the people in a restored community, I think that our job could be described as the creation of intangible value. ‘Our work may be changing the way people live,’ is what a JMAS colleague once told me. When I’m in the field, I understand what he meant. Clearing mines makes the land safer, enabling the building of roads… And when people travel these roads in safety and get together in their community, you can see how the expressions on their faces have really changed.

We’ll keep tackling the jobs only Komatsu can do.

When a road is built, the first thing to go up is utility poles. Then electricity flows and the lives of people begin to improve. I believe that construction machinery is the first and vital key to rebuilding and improving essential infrastructure. Right now, as one facet of our contribution to the betterment of their society, we’ve been considering initiatives like agricultural support to increase the rice harvest yields and a scholarship system to support university students.

Making places for life

Long ago, one of my bosses told me that one year of work will get you only a year of value. A job that takes 10 years produces 10 years of value. As professionals, we must take responsibility for our work from starting the job, keeping at it and seeing it through to the finish line. If I decide to do a job, I’m going to do it right. So when junior employees comes into my office, I ask them, ‘Do you like this job?’ If you truly like doing something, you should aim to be great at it. People who like being in the field or on the frontlines of business are best suited for that work, right? When a job is really important like this Project, it inspires you to do your best. I believe that this is the essence of Komatsu.