Unsung Fisherman Quietly Saves Scores of Lives

For 57-year-old Cham fisherman Sary Ohmas, saving lives is a thankless job.

Having lived in the shadow of the Cambodia-Japan Friendship Bridge since 1979, Sary Ohmas said he has thwarted the suicide attempts of more than 60 people by rescuing them from the Tonle Sap river.

“Only a few of the jumpers said thanks to me,” Sary Ohmas said of the dozens of men and women who have leapt from the bridge into the rushing waters of the river.

In an interview Tuesday at his modest wooden home, Sary Oh­mas said that most of those who at­tempt suicide on the bridge are wo­men, and most are probably un­a­ware of his existence as they are usually unconscious when he pulls them from the water.

“I feel happy that I can help people get out of the water. I expect no­thing,” he said, adding that he rescued around seven people who jumped into the river in 2007.

Aun Phal, chief of administration for the Cambodia-Japan Friendship Bridge, said Monday that 26 people attempted suicide in 2007 by leaping from the bridge, a slight de­crease from the 34 people who jump­ed in 2006.

Of the 26 who jumped, only six were male and all but two survived, Aun Phal said.

“Most were young teenagers be­tween 17 and 25 years old,” he said. “They suffered strongly from de­pression, stress, poverty and sometimes family conflicts.”

Already, in the first few days of the new year, a 21-year-old university student suffering from cancer jumped from the bridge, but was rescued, Aun Phal said.

Police now pay $1.25 to each boat owner who retrieves a person from the river after they jump.

Sin Poly, a psychiatrist with the mental health NGO Transcultural Psychosocial Organization, said that although there are many factors, such as poverty and stress, which contribute to suicide, infidelity may be the leading cause in Cambodia.

“An increase in karaoke bars and night clubs increases the mental problems of housewives,” Sin Poly said.

And, as in most countries, more women attempt suicide than men, but more men succeed in taking their own lives, he added.

“Generally, men are more successful in suicide than women.”

Nop Sarin Srey Roth, acting exe­cutive director of the Cambo­dian Women’s Crisis Center, said that based on her experience the rate of suicide attempts appears to be de­clining in Cambodia. How­ever, the persistence of such problems as rape and domestic violence still leads many women to attempt suicide.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said that he was unaware of Sary Ohmas’ quiet role saving dozens of lives under the Japanese-Cambodia Friendship Bridge, but added that he would like to extend his thanks to the fisherman.

“I feel proud and would like to thank him for having such good ideals to help people,” he said.

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