Landmine removal activist to speak tonight in Palm Desert

PALM DESERT, Calif. - A former Palm Springs man who runs a group that funds the removal of land mines in Cambodia will discuss his work tonight in Palm Desert at UC Riverside.

Bill Morse, who lived in Palm Springs for 20 years before going to Cambodia, will speak at 6 p.m. at UCR Palm Desert, 75080 Frank Sinatra Drive.

Morse is also holding a fundraising auction at 6 p.m. Sunday at Peabody's Cafe, 134 S. Palm Canyon Drive.

Morse and his wife Jill planned to retire in Palm Springs, then Bill met a former Khmer Rouge child soldier who was clearing land mines with a stick and a pair of pliers in Cambodia, according to UCR Palm Desert spokeswoman Maggie Downs.

In 2003, Bill Morse created the Landmine Relief Fund, and he and his wife moved to Siem Reap, Cambodia, in 2009. Jill Morse teaches in a school for young land mine victims, according to Downs.

The Landmine Relief Fund provides 80 percent of the funding for the Cambodian Self-Help Demining organization, which was founded by Aki Ra, a former child soldier in the Khmer Rouge. The fund helps build village schools, and pay for teachers and school supplies.

Landmine Relief Fund schools now have more than 500 students, and each child receives what Morse calls a village iPad -- a 6-by 9-inch piece of wood covered in layers of blackboard paint, and 100 pieces of chalk, Downs said.

The demining organization has cleared more than 1.4 million square meters, including 44 villages, and returned nearly 10,000 displaced people to the land. An estimated 5 million land mines remain in Cambodia. It costs about $15,000 per month to sustain a 30-member Cambodian demining team, Downs said.

Seats for Morse's talk are limited. For more information about the Landmine Relief Fund, go to www.landmine-relief-fund.com.

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