Independent Appeal: 'I was shunned for disability, now I'm shown respect'

A farmer whose legs were blown off by a mine is rebuilding his life with the help of a charity in Cambodia. Paul Vallely reports

Ou Sarin was 43 when both his legs were blown off. You have probably never heard of the war in which it happened. Look in the record books and you won't find anything about minefields being laid in Cambodia as recently as 1991. It was just one of those small local wars – between a group of rebels whose cause was lost in the midst of history – and government troops.

When the fighting was over in the fields where Mr Sarin grew maize and rice, the departing government soldiers told him: "Don't worry. All the mines have been 100 per cent cleared." But they hadn't.

It took 24 hours for his friends to carry him from the village of Kamnop to the nearest hospital in Takeo province. By the time he got there the doctor had no other choice than to amputate both his legs, one below the knee, the other above. Because he also had severe malaria he was kept in hospital for two months. He told his relatives to sell all his oxen and his wife sold her gold jewellery. Between them they raised $2,500 (£1,700). It just about paid the hospital bill.

He returned to his village in a battered old wheelchair given to him by the hospital. "When I got back there was a big change in how everyone treated me," he recalls. "No one wanted to speak to me. I was shunned. Everyone treated me as a burden."

Worse than the ostracism was the mockery. The villagers gave him the cruel nickname "the Frog" because of his posture. "They said that all frogs were good for was eating." Cambodian drinkers like grilled frogs to eat while drinking alcohol. The disdain became so bad that, combined with his sense of shock at the condition in which he now found himself, he decided to kill himself. "I would have done it many times but my wife was strong and counselled me and built the strength in me."

For the first year his wife ran the farm. "All I could do was help clean the rice after the harvest and put it in sacks." But he was determined to keep on. From his wheelchair he began to plant trees – 20 mango, 15 jack fruit, 30 lemon trees. But, despite all his efforts, he could not make a success. Then, four years after the explosion which took his legs, an aid worker came to the village and suggested that he go away to a rehabilitation centre for people with disabilities, to get some training. He learnt how to repair motorbikes and afterwards returned to Kamnop to set up his own one-man business.

"I had a lot of customers but they would only come to me when they had no money," he says. "They asked for credit, but they never paid the bills. They felt they could cheat me because they knew that I would not be able to catch them to get the money."

For Mr Sarin the turning point came with the arrival of workers funded by Action on Disability and Development (ADD) which is one of the charities being supported by this year's Independent Christmas Appeal. They taught him that he had rights under Cambodian law as a disabled person. ADD also offered to fund a scheme which had been germinating at the back of his mind since he first went to the training centre. "Until I went there I had never met another disabled person. I thought I must be the only one who had to live like this," he recalls. "I developed a plan to go to all the villages around Kamnop to find out whether there were other disabled people like me."

But he had lacked the confidence to set out to fulfil the plan. ADD gave him that confidence: "My son began to give me a lift on his motorbike to other villages." ADD expanded Mr Sarin's initiative and three other disabled people joined him in what it now calls the "counterpart" programme. "We now have joined up 294 disabled people in three different communes in 22 self-help groups," he says.

That work has been replicated elsewhere, thanks to ADD. The counterpart programme now reaches hundreds of disabled people – and educates local officials, teachers, council staff and community and religious leaders about the rights of disabled people. The status this has given Mr Sarin with the local authorities has rubbed off on the people in his village. "Today I am treated with respect. People have listened to me for the first time. They have begun to think what life must be like for someone with a disability. Attitudes have really changed."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn