The last time Song Kosal was in Canada, school students lined up to meet the young Cambodian land mine victim and give her presents. The 17-year-old girl welcomed them with her gentle smile, but said she wished other children in her country could get as many gifts.
That was last March. On Jan 20, Song Kosal received 17 boxes of sports equipment, toys, games, and school supplies sent by students from nearly 30 elementary and secondary schools in Canada. The gifts will be distributed to children in communities plagued by land mines, said Totet Banaynal, acting director for Jesuit Service Cambodia, which runs programs in mine-affected communities.
Song Kosal has for several years been a symbol in the international campaign against land mines, said Nancy Ingram, outreach officer for Mines Action Canada, a coalition of more than 40 Canadian organizations involved in land mine issues. “She became the first face that the public and the media associated with land mines,” said Ingram. Walking on her one leg with the help of a crutch, Song Kosal has traveled to the US, France, Spain, Australia and other countries to help people understand how land mines continue to affect people after wars are over.
It was Song Kosal who came up with the idea for a petition. Young people in 44 countries gathered 263,000 signatures through the Youth Against War program (managed by MAC), Ingram said. The petition was sent to the US government last year in hopes the US would join more than 140 other countries that have signed the Ottawa Convention banning land mines.
The gift collection was handled by youth mine action ambassadors, said Valerie Warmington, co-chair of MAC. “They are people in their 20s who learn about land mines, visit affected countries, and talk about it in [Canadian] schools.” After a trip to Cambodia last July, “they were so moved by what they saw that, in the schools they visited, they began collecting [gifts],” Warmington said.
The gifts show “that Canadian children understand that there are children in Cambodia whose lives were shattered by these terrible weapons of war,” said Canadian Ambassador Normand Mailhot, whose government covered shipping costs.
Canada has long been involved in demining in Cambodia and is now completing a nationwide survey of land mines still to be removed and a study of their socio-economic effects on communities, Mailhot said.