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  Standing together 2007-11-01 

It has been three years now since the General Chatichai Choonhavan Foundation established a centre to produce artificial legs and repair broken ones for hundreds of disabled mine victims living along the Thai-Cambodian border in this province..

"Most people think artificial legs can only be made in big factories. That's not true," said foundation director Sutthikiat Sopinit.

The centre, located at Ban Khok Sa Baeng village in Aranyaprathet district, has offered new hope for poor villagers who lost their legs after stepping on mines scattered along the border.

As of Oct 10, 260 disabled people had sought help from the centre. Some wanted to have their ageing artificial legs fixed or were in need of new ones, while others had only recently lost their legs in landmine explosions.

"We gave them [artificial legs] free of charge as we realise they could not afford to pay for them," Mr Sutthikiat said.

An artificial leg is expensive with a market price tag of around 50,000 baht, although production costs are not over 5,000 baht, he said.

The centre, working with the Prostheses Foundation under the Royal Patronage of Her Royal Highness the Princess Mother, has trained five disabled villagers to make artificial legs and repair damaged ones, each receiving a monthly salary of about 3,000 baht. When they have no work to do locally, the centre sends them to other mine-infested areas in the country to help the work of the Prostheses Foundation.

The centre recently received support from the province which wanted to launch vocational training programmes for villages in other areas.

Five sewing machines were donated to the centre for use in teaching clothes making skills to villagers. Some were also taught hairdressing.

Amporn Boon-oudnoon, 37, who has been making artificial legs at the centre for three years, said he is happy with what he is doing.

"Without this job I would not have earned enough money to bring up my four-year-old child," he said.

"I am also proud of having the opportunity to help other poor disabled people," said Mr Amporn, who lost his left leg some 14 years ago when he stepped on a landmine while on his way to catch fish in a stream near his village.

Some of the villagers who sought help from the centre broke into tears when they received artificial legs for the first time, he said.

Mr Amporn has made 60 artificial legs in the past three years.

His colleague, Somkiat Chuasing, 33, said he loved helping other people, and that was one reason why he came to work at the centre.

Mr Somkiat lost his left leg after stepping on a landmine buried in a rice farm 11 years ago.

Song Khamsukdee, 77, who lost his right leg 26 years ago, was impressed with the service offered at the centre. "It's good to have this kind of centre in the village," he said.

Village head Anu Kaewprakarn said about 30 disabled people live in the village. Most are rice farmers and need further vocational training to help them learn other useful skills, he said

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