"If the village keeps developing and growing, the people will live better and we can request that the Government to do more for us, that they bring the services we need – a school, a health centre, water, electricity. But first, we need MAG to clear all the landmines so that we can have more land.”
Fifty-year-old Belita Cahilo is the Soba, or chief, of the 6,000 or so people who live in Luanga, on the outskirts of the town of Luau in the eastern province of Moxico.
Although Luanga has sprung back to life since the end of the civil war in 2002, quickly growing from a desolate landscape riddled with landmines and remnants of conflict to a bustling village, the community and its chief are under strain.
"We need more land to be cleared before an accident happens."
- Belita Cahilo
[Photos: J.B. Russell / MAG]
Before the conflict erupted in the mid- 1970s, Luanga was a small bairro (village).
As the fighting intensified, the village was for the most part abandoned.
Almost all the inhabitants fled to neighbouring Zambia or Congo where they stayed, living as refugees, for more than 25 years.
Says Belita: "When people started coming back [after the war finished], there were several accidents and one person was even killed, so we knew the area was mined. There were so many people coming who needed to build houses to live in, so we made a request to MAG to clear the land.”
From May to October 2005, teams of deminers from MAG cleared more than 45,000 square metres of terrain in the village and surrounding areas, providing a safe environment for the returnees to begin rebuilding their lives.
“When MAG finished clearance, we were very happy because the population was able to construct houses," continues Belita. "Men, and women who had lost their husbands during the war, were looking for plots of land for their families. Four churches were also built.
"The churches are very important to the community. Not just for worshiping and prayer, but also for the children. There are many, many children in the community, but we don’t have a school. Most of the children are educated in the churches.
"Since MAG removed the landmines, there haven’t been any accidents.”
As Belita spoke, her enthusiasm began to wane and she took on an air of concern:
"There are still people arriving, occupying the land, asking me for plots, but the land that MAG cleared is already full. People are beginning to push into the land that was not cleared. They are starting to build houses, looking for firewood or making small gardens to grow vegetables because there is no place left in the bairro.
"And they are finding mines too. Those people know that the area is not safe, but they are living and walking in a minefield anyway. We need more land to be cleared before an accident happens.”
Related article: "Clearing the mines makes our lives better"
"We don’t receive help from anyone. No one cares about us, but if MAG clears away all the mines then already our lives will be better."
– Atenção Chihango, pictured with his wife in their home community of Caleji
Belita Cahilo is not just concerned about safety, though.
While the initial urgency was to have land to resettle thousands of families coming back to the country after years of conflict, the community now needs room to grow and to develop the things fundamental to sustaining the community in the future.
The lack of landmine-free land is putting pressure on the nascent village and preventing it from progressing.
“There is no land for a school building. There have been some arguments over plots because there is not enough space available for everyone. The community is growing, but there is no possibility of expanding.
"Also, there is only one place to get water for five different bairros around Luau. It is too far away and people are quarrelling over access. We need the government to bring water here and electricity too.”
As the sun began to set, women prepared meals over metal braziers and children played amongst the buildings kicking up clouds of dust. Belita sat in her chair and looked around the courtyard.
"If there was more land, as Soba I would divide the land into an area reserved for a school, an area for a hospital and the rest for housing development.
"If the village keeps developing and growing, the people will live better and we can request that the government to do more for us, that they bring the services we need – a school, a health centre, water, electricity. But first, we need MAG to clear all the landmines so that we can have more land.”
Your donation to MAG helps us to move into current and former conflict zones to lessen the threat of death and injury for communities.
13 October 2009
MAG's work in Angola is supported by: DFID (UK Department for International Development); Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, US Department of State; Royal Government of the Netherlands.