Euronews went to Battambang province to meet Davy Tith.
This former teacher and translator has devoted most of her life to the victims of Pol Pot’s regime and to help her country along the path to reconciliation.
In the small commune of Treng, Davy Tith is a popular figure. We meet a couple whose life changed when they first encountered Davy a few years ago.
“You gave me two pigs,” says the man. “Now, I breed pigs and sell them, along with vegetables from our garden.”
Davy Tith and her organisation, the OEC (Operation Enfants du Cambodge) helped Sothea Nam out of poverty following a bad accident in 1990.
A former soldier and police officer, Sothea lost a leg to a landmine explosion.
Even though peace has returned and despite landmine clearance, there are still many accidents in the region.
“After the war, people suffered injury from landmines when they went to work in the fields or took out their animals,” says Davy. “There are still a lot of landmines, some have been buried and forgotten about, nobody knows where they are! We always hear about mines blowing up here or there.”
A few kilometres away, Davy visits another victim.
Thanks to her organisation, a young schoolboy was able to receive treatment and go back to school.
“He found this thing at school, we call it a frog mine, it’s quite small,” says Davy. “When he hit it, it blew up, and he was injured here and here,” she says, showing the boy’s leg wounds.
Helping those still suffering from the war is Davy Tith’s goal in life.
She too was a victim of the conflicts that tore her country apart.
“Difficult is too light a word to describe what we went through,” she says. “Under Pol Pot’s regime, you had to hide your identity. You had to forget everything. If they found out I was a teacher, I would have died.”
“I had to find work, anything. Transporting excrement, or whatever was needed. We saw many, many dead people,” she adds.
“I walked through dead people. When I used to wash my children’s clothes in the river, I saw bodies all swollen up, and I could hear their heads banging against the bridge,” says Davy.
“That’s when I swore, I said ‘I am alive, and in my life, I will do all I can to help others’. According to the Buddha, if you sow goodness in your life, you will reap goodness,” she says.
In 1995, Davy was able to live up to her pledge, when one of her children was hospitalised in Battambang.
“I saw sick children from poor families, they were crying and yelling because they were hungry and sick and there wasn’t enough medication,” she says.
She left her job as a translator for international organisations, and started working full-time helping children suffering from dengue fever, malnutrition, or victims of landmines. She set up her own organisation, Operation Children of Cambodia.
“Some of them have grown up, sometimes I meet them, but I don’t recognise them. They say ‘You saved my life’. That is my reward,” she says.
Over the years, her organisation has grown, helping those who are destitute, especially people suffering from disabilities.
Medical and material assistance, literacy - Davy Tith helps all those living on the margins of society.
She has also broken taboos by venturing deep into the Cambodian forest to work with former Khmer Rouge fighters who have taken refuge there.
“It’s part of the reconciliation effort,” she says. “If we hadn’t introduced basic education for all children, for the entire population, maybe we would still be divided, looking at each other like enemies.”
There are several former Khmer Rouge soldiers in her team, like Bunheng, a physiotherapist who now helps reeducate children suffering from disabilities or landmine injuries.
“These innocent children suffer harm as a result of the war. They are innocent but they are paying the price of war. I’m helping them so they can have a future,” says Bunheng.
Healing the wounds of war is a goal which doesn’t allow you to take sides says Davy: “I would like to help rebuild the country, because I am fed up with conflict and war. So I want to play an active part in society, but not in politics. Peace comes from the community itself, not by using force or guns, but from the people themselves.”
Cambodian woman devotes life to healing war scars