Aki Ra and his wife, Hourt, make it seem so very easy. Visitors to the Landmine Museum often talk about how happy their two young sons and 18 adopted children look, how much the kids enjoy meeting new people and how very confident they appear.

In truth, running the Museum is a tough, tough job. Most of the children living there are landmine victims from impoverished families. Many have injuries that continue to require medical attention. Many are still traumatized by their horrific past.

Most of the kids never had the opportunity to go to school prior to meeting Aki Ra. And when we were filming in Siem Reap earlier this year, we got the distinct sense that some of them would actually do anything to avoid entering a classroom.

For some of the kids, it’s a case of misguided priorities. They’d rather kick a ball, chase a frog or climb a tree than read a book or learn how to multiply. For others though – especially the older boys – it’s a question of face. Starting late means joining a class full of much younger students. And as any kid will tell you, it is just plain uncool to hang out with babies.

Counselling a rebellious teenager can be incredibly frustrating. No one, not even Aki Ra, can persuade a child to go to school if he is determined to stay away. Siem Reap is an exciting place for a young adult. Tourism is booming. There are jobs a-plenty as guides and hotel porters, waiters and drivers. It’s a place where a kid with a smattering of English and an easy smile can find quick employment. Who needs a diploma to charm the tourists?

Add to all that, the belief that there really is no point in studying hard if there is no money for university. Why bother?

In April this year, it all seemed like a bit of a lost cause. Many of the kids were dreaming up schemes to skip school.

Yet seven months on, there’s been a change of heart.

The Museum, normally noisy and full of kids at any time of day, was strangely quiet when we arrived on a Monday afternoon. We were told that 17 of the 18 children were at school. Yes, even Boreak, our favourite little wannabe-wrestler, and the Museum’s most creative school-skipper, had decided that he was better off studying.

What triggered the turnaround?


Over dinner one night, a volunteer told us that because of the College Fund, all of Aki Ra’s kids now have the opportunity to go to university or trade school. All they have to do is study hard and make the grade. It’s a simple yet effective idea. Knowing that they have a genuine chance of becoming a doctor, engineer, teacher or rocket scientist has been a huge motivation for the children.

And so it seems, it’s now cool to go to school. Even if it means putting up with a few babies.

The scheme’s worked so well, ALL the children at the Landmine Museum have sponsors and Roy, Asad and Olivia – founders of the College Fund – are planning to extend the programme to include other young landmine survivors.

To make a donation or sponsor a child, contact Roy at landminecollegefund at gmail dot com.