5 days in the life of; CLARE SHORT

Share
Related Topics
Monday: Set off from Heathrow at 9.50am. The flight is 17 hours long and Cambodia is seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. We won't get to Phnom Penh until tomorrow.

Tuesday: We arrive at midday badly jet-lagged. I slept on the journey but my brain still thinks it's sleep time. For the rest of the day, I have to concentrate intensely.

Briefings from our hosts. A Scot called Archie heads the Mines Advisory Group, a British voluntary organisation, and a woman from Southern India the Oxfam operation, but most of the staff of both are Cambodians. MAG is there to advise on clearing the 60 per cent of farm land still unusable because of mines. Cambodians, including women (widows of the war and the terror) and amputees (Cambodia has more than anywhere else in the world), do the de-mining. The job brings money and status - pounds 100 per month compared with pounds 20 to pounds 30 for doctors and teachers.

We meet the British Ambassador - who speaks Khmer and comes from Bedford - and discuss the uneasy political situation: the brother-in-law of one of the prime ministers (there are two) has been killed and everyone is talking about what this might mean. Will the coalition collapse? Will there be fighting? We also talk about our missing hostage Chris Howes and his interpreter Houn Hourth. We've heard there could be a breakthrough, but there have been disappointments before.

The ambassador hosts a cocktail party for me at the embassy in the evening, a friendly way of meeting the politicians and UN staff I need to. Back at the hotel there is a lovely fax from Toby waiting. I tumble into bed hoping tiredness will break the jet lag.

Wednesday: I wake at 6.30 feeling good and even do my yoga. We fly to Battambang at 9.15. This is the second city of Cambodia in a rich agricultural area and is badly mined. I am told it will take 20-30 years to clear the land so that displaced people can be resettled.

We set off to the minefield. The road is massively bumpy. When the going gets particularly rough we three women decide to get out and walk. Just in time. The Land Rover flops over into a flooded gully. The two men climb out through a window and the Land Rover has to be winched out.

Displaced people live alongside the road waiting to be resettled on de- mined land. Rice is growing and beans are spread out drying in the sun. Contented pigs roam freely. Children cycle to school. Courageous people are reasserting normality. We watch the de-miners who work in pairs - a square yard at a time. It's enormously painstaking. One cuts down the grass and shrubs 6 inches at a time. Before that they check with a flexible cane for trip wires. Then, the metal detector sweeps the cleared land. When it buzzes, the partner pokes with a knife, inch by inch, to find a mine. Then, all withdraw for the mine to be blown up. We miss lunch with the Governor. A lorry full of wood has got stuck in a ditch so we stop at a mines education lesson where a hundred little children watch a video and sing a song. Most children die if they are involved in an explosion. They are so near the ground.

Thursday: We visit villages with Oxfam. We are told half of all the households are headed by women.These women are farming fish, pigs and chickens but are on the edge of survival. At lunch, with a group of Oxfam's local partners, a new theme comes up. Many of the poorest have been deeply traumatised by Pol Pot and the war; they need help in dealing with their trauma before they can plan for the future.

In the afternoon, we visit the International Red Cross project which provides limbs for amputees. The service is free and very impressive. In between meetings, the photographer tells us that Chris and Houn may be free soon. I desperately hope it is true.

Friday: Brief session of yoga, and I skip shopping to get a briefing on how information is gathered about mines. I hear of a storytelling project that aims to tell children what happened to their country and families. Houn's wife and boys fly with us to Phnom Penh. They have never flown before and are beaming with happiness and optimism.

Lunch with Oxfam and local organisations, before leaving. Almost all manage to be cautiously optimistic about Cambodia's future.

Clare Short is Labour spokeswoman for Overseas Development.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

£8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

£55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Police officers attempt to stop illegal migrants from jumping onto trucks headed for Britain in the northeastern French port of Calais on October 29, 2014  

Tighter security in Calais won’t solve the problem

Nigel Morris
 

Football needs its Martin Luther moment, and soon

Boyd Tonkin
US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines