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Cambodia: handicapped volleyball player achieves more than a medal

26-12-2007 Feature

When mine amputee Chim Phan helped his team to gain a bronze medal at the recent world cup final, it was his ultimate triumph over years of pain and struggle. One of thousands of mine victims in Cambodia, Phan represents a generation determined to overcome their handicap.

  © ICRC / Roger Arnold / V-P-KH-E-00183    
  © ICRC / Roger Arnold / V-P-KH-E-00180    
  © ICRC / Roger Arnold / V-P-KH-E-00181    
  © ICRC / Roger Arnold / V-P-KH-E-00182    

The championship, organized by the World Organisation for Volleyball Disabled (WOVD), ended in December in Phnom Penh; Cambodia beat Poland to third place.

Seeing Phan (38) jumping, blocking, serving and diving around the court delighted family and friends. Like other Cambodian mine victims, Phan has re-gained not only his ability to walk but also the possibility to earn money and, above all, the dignity to live his life again.


He has come a long way since stepping on a landmine 12 years ago, near his home in Kandal Province. The blast tore off his lower right leg and he thought he was going to die. Resting at home after several weeks in hospital, Phan admits he spent six months in a deep depression. “I did not know how I could support my wife and children. It's already hard enough to make a living in Cambodia when you have two legs.”

  Cambodia’s maiming fields
Long after conflict ended, Cambodia remains one of the world’s most heavily-infested minefields. The United Nations estimates that over 40 per cent of the country’s villages are contaminated, with between four and six million mines and other explosive devices left in the ground. There are reported to be some 36,000 landmine victims in Cambodia. The ICRC gives support to two orthopaedic centres and to a component factory in Phnom Penh and has mobile teams to reach villages difficult to access.    
His life changed after attending the Kompong Speu rehabilitation centre which is run by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY) and supported by the ICRC.

 Simple technology  


Like other disabled Cambodians who learn to walk again after losing limbs from mine accidents, Phan was fitted with a polypropylene artificial leg and a natural rubber foot – technology developed by the ICRC. The inexpensive appliance was designed to be simple, easy to use and resistant to the climate. Each limb is made to individual needs.

“I went there three times to test different ones until they had it fitted just right,” he said, adding that it was a “fantastic feeling” to finally stand on his own: “I never believed it would be possible for me to walk again.”

After two months Phan got accustomed to the limb so that he could work again. He also took up running and playing volleyball; since 1996 he has played in the Cambodian National Volleyball League for the Disabled.

 Putting a spring in his step  


The limbs are checked twice a year at the centre, to adjust the fitting and make repairs. As a national volleyball player, Phan was given the privilege of having a high-tech limb giving greater speed, spring, and jump. Some Western companies have donated special joints and dynamic feet to make the limbs perform better.

Phan and five of his team-mates received the “super legs” just two months before the beginning of the World Cup. It took about ten fittings before the appliance was fully fine-tuned. The service was free of charge.

After the matches are over, Phan hangs up his high-tech limb and puts on his ICRC-supplied standard leg for everyday use. Outside the volleyball court, he also runs a half-mile marathon, and works as a carpenter.

The true victory for Phan is not just the bronze medal he collected from the World Cup: “Now I can do everything I did before and provide for my family just like everyone else. And one leg feels the same as the other leg now, so I just don't feel sorry for myself anymore.”