Ridding the world of land mines

Richard YimIdeas for social enterprise businesses, like any creative idea, can come from anywhere but in Richard Yim’s case, it was quite clear to him from an early age what problem he wanted to solve.

Born in Cambodia, Richard spent the first 13 years of his life being cautioned, as all Cambodian children are, about where he could and could not play, and seeing on every street people who were maimed to one degree or another. Cambodia has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the most heavily land-mined countries in the world – with an estimated eight to 10 million land mines in the country.

The challenge is that land mines are easy to make and place (costing as little as $3 U.S.) but challenging, expensive, and highly dangerous to remove.

For Richard, it became a personal mission to figure out a better way to rid the world of land mines.

In his first year of university, he mentioned the issue to a few classmates in his mechanical engineering program and did a small project. However, his passion really got harnessed during conversations last winter with his classmates and with Tania Del Matto, Director of GreenHouse, and then this summer with a team of engineers as they built the initial mechanical design for a device that will defuse land mines using steam to melt the TNT that causes land mines to explode.

This fall, Richard has moved into GreenHouse to take the project to the next level. 

"GreenHouse is what created this project. We had an idea and knew the problem well but we had no connection with people. Tania has been a great mentor and proponent for this project, walking us through step by step and connecting us with key people, such as Lloyd Axworthy. I can’t say enough about how unbelievably helpful it has been to be part of GreenHouse.”

While Richard is the only member of his team (now called The Landmine Boys), to be living at GreenHouse, the entire team has appreciated the GreenHouse space for meetings as they ready their device for prototyping.

They hope to have a fully functioning model in 2016 and to have the product in the hands of Cambodian people by early 2017. Eventually they hope to make the entire process – including land mine detection – robotic, eliminating the risk to human safety.

The Landmine Boys working on their prototype.

Worldwide, land mines are a significant issue with the United Nations estimating land mine-related deaths at 15,000 to 20,000 each year. Land mines also have an economic effect on mined countries – in Cambodia, for instance, fertile land cannot be farmed due to the presence of land mines.

"We want to help people in developing countries as much as possible,” says Richard.

"We believe this is something vital helping them clear landmines – so they can do agriculture and help their economy. We are all passionate about this project.”

In December, Richard travelled to Cambodia to test out his prototype. Join us by following Richard @LandmineBoys as we get updates on this amazing journey. 

- by Susan Fish


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