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Health Part 2: The Caged Dreams

By
May 1, 2008

I found Soye playing the violin on the stairs of his house in a grimy, riverside slum in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Soye, 35, lost one of his limbs in a landmine explosion when he was 20. “The disability has imprisoned my dreams and hinders my whole spirit.”

“I couldn’t go to school ever. I used to play music at weddings but nowI feel exhausted. My music is only for myself. Although I play in the marketplace to earn money, I never beg.” Soye’s eyes glitter.

I followed him from sunrise to dusk, capturing a day in his life with my camera. In the busy marketplace, Soye’s violin attracts some people, while others just pass by. At the end of the day he comes back with only one and a half dollars.

In Cambodia, the death of Pol Pot and the demise of the Khmer Rouge ended a dark and savage era but left behind 41,000 victims who have lost limbs to landmines. Cambodia is home to an estimated 4-6 million landmines and has the highest per capita number of amputees in the world—one out of every 350 people.

Despite the ratification of an international treaty banning landmines in 1997, a large number remain in the ground all over the world. Worldwide, landmines and unexploded ordnance claim 18,000 new victims each year. According to the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, each month sees 68 new mine victims. Mines lie underground for years before maiming both soldiers and civilians and the resulting injuries put maximum strain on medical and societal resources.

Andrew Biraj worked for a local weekly magazine in 1999 before traveling through Bangladesh as a photojournalist. In his own country, Biraj’s photographic subjects range from political brutality to the solitary life of his grandmother. He often focuses on social and political outcasts. Recently, he has worked on numerous stories in the UK as well, including his ongoing project about the stranded Bihari community in Bangladesh. He won the Bronze prize in the 3rd China International Press Photo Contest (CHIPP) 2007 and 2nd Prize in the Photojournalism category in Venice International Photo Contest, 2007. He was also has been selected for the 2008 World Press Photo JoopSwart Masterclass grant and recently won 1st Prize in the “Environmental Picture Story” category of “Best of Photojournalism” by NPPA; 2008. His editorial work has appeared in The Guardian, The Observer Magazine, Courrier International, Saudi Aramaco World, Himal Southasian, Photo File, F2, I Care, New Age and Forum Magazine of Daily Star.

He lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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You might also like

  • Vaddey Ratner: The Cripple’s Last DanceVaddey Ratner: The Cripple’s Last Dance Flash Fiction: Dossier No. X recovered from Interrogation Cell B of Sala-XX
  • Effacing MemoryEffacing Memory The artist defaces dictators who amassed illegitimate power, and works of art.
  • Shooting FilmShooting Film In Not Afraid of Film Anymore, Czech artist Tomáš Svoboda examines how we have become calm observers of modern horror.
  • Two RiversTwo Rivers The photographer’s new book defies borders and conventions in central Asia.

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