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: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas