Until They’re Gone is a film about landmines, the people who remove them, and hope.
Specifically, it is about Bill and Jill Morse, a retired American couple living permanently in Cambodia. The film details their work with Landmine Relief Fund. Inspired by the work of Aki Ra – a former Khmer Rouge conscripted child soldier forced to lay landmines, turned deminer as an adult – the Morses founded Landmine Relief Fund, a U.S. based NGO that raises money for Aki Ra’s demining team, Cambodia Self Help Demining.
After several years of fundraising and hands-on involvement, the Morses sold their home in Palm Springs, California to relocate permanently to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Along with Landmine Relief Fund, the Morses also run Rural School Village Project, building schools in small rural villages. Often, these schools are built on former minefields that Cambodian Self Help Demining cleared.
Bill, a former businessman, and Jill, a former school teacher, find their lifetime of work prepared them for this. Bill’s first awareness of Cambodia began in 1970 as a college ROTC student glued to his television watching Richard Nixon announce the bombing of Cambodia. Four days later, four students were gunned down by National Guard at a protest of Nixon’s decision on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio. “It was very much a turning point in my life,” Bill says.
Decades later, when a colleague asked Bill for a contribution of $100 to help buy a metal
detector for Aki Ra, he was curious about the man and followed his curiosity to Aki Ra’s
homemade Landmine Museum. What he saw moved him to action. Aki Ra was demining by hand with a pair of pliers and a stick. He would deactivate the landmines, clean them, put them on display and charge tourists $1 to see them. He would use that money and go back into the field. Along the way, he found many orphans in these rural villages, and took them in. At one point, 18 adopted children lived with Aki Ra at the Landmine Museum.
In 2007 the Cambodian government, afraid his DIY demining would kill someone, shut down Aki Ra’s demining efforts and required him to get certified as a trained deminer. This is when Bill and Jill Morse got heavily involved. So much so that Aki Ra, with the help of the Morses, was was trained and certified to international standards, and a more permanent Landmine Museum was built, complete with a school on the premises. More involved than ever, they relocated to Cambodia permanently in 2009.
Today, the team has grown to 30+ certified deminers, and there are 25 students living and attending school at the Landmine Museum.
David P. Chandler –
One of the foremost Western scholars of Cambodia history. Chandler is a former U.S. Foreign Service officer stationed in Cambodia, the author of Brother Number One, a Political Biography of Pol Pot, Voices From S-21, A History of Cambodia, and testified at the Khmer Rouge tribunal. He is a retired Emeritus Professor at Monash University in Australia. A room at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is named in his honor.