LAST Thursday, exactly two weeks ago, three men were driving through central Somalia in a small truck when they noticed a large truck approaching them from the front. The road was narrow, and to allow enough space for them to pass each other, the small truck pulled off the road – and exploded with a deafening bang, sending a dust cloud billowing into the sky.
Two people in the truck were killed and a third seriously injured. The cabin of the truck had been torn apart and there was a giant crater in the road.
The truck’s left front wheel had hit a landmine.
My work here in Somalia includes helping to prevent such incidents. Landmines in Somalia are mainly restricted to the border areas, but the country is littered with deadly old munitions. This year there have already been 12 accidents caused by old munitions exploding – killing 10 people and injuring 14. Most of the victims were under 18.
Mine programmes involve a number of things, including clearing (getting rid of landmines), providing victims with support, and teaching people how to live safely in areas where there could be mines. The latter is called mine risk education (MRE), and that’s my job.
The ideal is of course to get rid of as many old munitions and landmines as possible, but it’s a very expensive process. Training is a lot cheaper and that’s why aid organisations prefer to focus on this aspect. The organisation I work for is contracted to, among other things, provide a technical expert (that’s me) to the United Nations (UN). The UN and other organisations have teams in the field which teach people landmine safety, and I have to train, monitor and provide these teams with specific tasks. I’m also tasked with making sure they conform to international standards. TOP: Me in action during a training session. ABOVE LEFT and RIGHT: Group discussions and work sessions. The good part of my job
The most enjoyable part of my job is getting to work with teams in the field. The teams, consisting of two or three people, go to schools, madrassas (Islamic schools), refugee camps or any other gathering place and teach people how to be safe in landmine environments. They teach the Somalis how to recognise landmines and munitions, what can happen if there’s an accident, which areas could be dangerous, and what to do if they see something that looks dangerous. The children are taught using pictures, songs, role play and jigsaw puzzles. The teams at work. TOP: Distributing pamphlets in a refugee camp. ABOVE LEFT and RIGHT: Training using jigsaw puzzles; and a session in a Somali village. The bad part of my job
This is when there’s an accident. I’ll never forget the day of my first accident. A group of boys aged between 12 and 13 were playing on a minefield in the town of Malakal, where I had a team. There was an explosion and one boy was killed and three injured.
For days I fretted about what we’d done wrong and how we could have been better. I have also often sat in my office wiping away the tears as I cried for children injured in accidents.
But a few days ago I again received fantastic news. A few children living in a camp for displaced people (therefore kids who are, as it were, refugees in their own country) who had attended one of our sessions, had seen a hand grenade, recognised it from the pictures they’d been shown, and reported it. What would they have done if they hadn’t recognised it? Tried to play with it?
Yes, we will have a positive impact. Our programmes are working. What a great feeling of success, but also of gratitude that you can play a small role in literally saving children’s lives and limbs.
Rudie Thirion is a former chaplain who is now involved in aid work in Somalia. He has a home in Pretoria but spends most of his time in a United Nations camp in Mogadishu. He blogs for us about his trials and tribulations north of the Equator.