"We are a new country, with many problems. While others are here to make money, MAG is here only to help us and our children."
“Come quickly, come quickly, I’ve found another one,” shouts a man riding his bicycle towards the tents at MAG’s temporary campsite in Magwi.
Pope Oboya had been sweeping the grounds at the nearby health centre where he works as a guard and caretaker, when he’d come across what at first looked like a stone. As he removed the soil from around the item, he realised it was something far more sinister.
Pope knew only too well about the dangers such unidentified items could pose.
Magwi, South Sudan
“One year ago, not very far from this compound, my wife Santa Adia found a similar object while digging in our field,” he says.
“She didn’t know it was dangerous and so she threw it into the fire with the rest of our household rubbish. It exploded. She was seriously wounded by flying pieces of burning hot metal.
“She spent many weeks in the hospital in Juba. Those were really tough weeks for me. I didn’t know if she would live or die. How could I look after the children without her?”
The safety messages Pope received following that incident might well have saved his, or someone else's, life this morning.
“MAG gave me Risk Education after my wife’s accident so I could protect my family in the future,” he says. “And when I saw this object today I knew if I told MAG they would do something to help as soon as they could. I knew that MAG was working in the area, so I went immediately to their camp to tell them about it.”
“Although I cannot read or write, I may have saved someone’s life today by not touching the item and immediately reporting it to MAG.”
Pope Oboya shows the MAG Community Liaison team the item he has found and safely marked at the health centre.
Risk Education sessions include, for example, how to recognise remnants of conflict, how to report a dangerous item and how to keep others safe.
When the Community Liaison (CL) team arrived with Pope at the health centre, they saw a half-excavated mortar tail in the middle of the nurses’ residence compound.
“Although I cannot read or write, I may have saved someone’s life today by not touching the item and immediately reporting it to MAG,” Pope says.
“When the MAG team told me this, I felt very good about myself. I shall behave the same way if I find something else.”
The CL team marked the dangerous item with warning tape and red paint. They told the nurses living in the compound to stay away from it, and scheduled a convenient time for all the health centre staff to attend a comprehensive safety briefing later that day.
Robert Opigo, a laboratory technician also living in the compound, explained to MAG: “Most of the nurses staying here are from Uganda, like me. We do not know about the dangers here in South Sudan. We were very lucky that the caretaker had received Risk Education before and therefore knew what to do.”
The CL team continued asking questions and gathering information about other people who may be at risk. Robert told them that although patients of the health centre did not enter the nurses’ compound, many local schoolchildren from the nearby Ajula village cut through it every day on their way to school.
Twelve-year-old Agnes Welma (left) and Evelyn Akwera, 15, learn about the dangers posed by unexploded ordnance.
So, another priority of the team was to protect the children.
MAG drove to the school and met with the deputy headmaster of Magwi Central Primary School, Okee Simington. An assembly was immediately called for all the children from Ajula village, and the danger of the shortcut was explained to them.
“MAG’s quick response to the danger was very encouraging,” said Mr Simington. “We are a new country, with many problems. While others are here to make money, MAG is here only to help us and our children. MAG’s quick response has lowered the risk of our children being hurt.”
The team spent the next few days giving Risk Education sessions to all 1,100 seven- to 18-year-old students, as well as 150 three- to six-year-olds at the next-door Pebolo Nursery.
The team also made a detailed report of the UXO and its location and sent it to a MAG Technical Field Manager, who was working with his team of deminers in the area, for it to be safely removed as soon as possible.
The MAG teams in this article are funded by the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, US Department of State as part of the "Supporting Safer Return and Resettlement of Returnees and IDPs in South Sudan" project.
Schoolchildren from the Pebolo Nursery School received life-saving safety messages from MAG.
[Photos: MAG South Sudan]
• Reporting by Marysia Zapasnik, Community Liaison Manager, MAG South Sudan
2 August 2011