Schoolchildren receive special child-focused Mine Risk Education.
“I was breast feeding my youngest child and stirring the ungali1 for my older children’s dinners when I suddenly heard a big bang,” said Regina Akongo, from Imorok village in Torit County.
“I was terribly frightened. We have lived with war for so long and I thought it was starting all over again. I didn’t know whether to run or hide. I screamed to my children and we hid inside our tukul2.”
"We are very happy MAG responded so quickly, especially with our local school less than 100 metres away from the site of the explosion"
Fifty metres away, close to the local primary school, a cow had stepped on an antipersonnel landmine.
MAG received information from the non-governmental organisation International Rescue Committee about the incident and immediately sent a Community Liaison team to the area to investigate.
“We introduced ourselves to the village chief and told him of our plans to investigate the accident,” explains Sudanese national and MAG South Sudan Community Liaison Manager Angelo Lawrence [read more on how MAG trains and employs local people, maximising the longer term development impact of our work - National importance: capacity building].
Together with the chief, the Community Liaison team walked carefully in single file, then followed a well-trodden footpath leading off into the bush behind a group of family tukuls. Behind the last tukul they found a crater with remnants of the exploded mine.
Angelo made sure nobody strayed from the safe path and began marking the area and gathering as much information about the location as possible.
MAG National Community Liaison Manager Angelo with Regina and her children.
[Photos: MAG South Sudan]
The chief told Angelo how relieved he was that MAG had responded so quickly:
“Sometimes we hear of explosions, animals and even people being hurt or killed, and nothing happens.
"We are very happy MAG responded so quickly, especially with our local school less than 100 metres away from the site of the explosion.”
MAG Community Liaison staff put up Danger Mines signs in the area and immediately began preparing emergency Mine Risk Education sessions.
The first session was organised for the community living closest to the suspected minefield. Thirty-six people attended, including Regina.
Angelo explained to her that it was very good she hadn’t wandered into the bush to see what had caused the explosion: if she had, then maybe she would have stepped on another mine. This message was repeated to the whole community.
The second session took place in the primary school. Angelo briefed the Community Liaison team – like Angelo, all are from South Sudan – that the Mine Risk Education session in the school had to be direct and to the point [MAG’s MRE activities vary considerably depending on the target audience: read more on MIne Risk Education]. They had to grab and keep the attention of the children throughout the whole session and make sure all their messages were clear and easy to follow.
"All our local children play in the bushes around the school, so informing them of the dangers of mines and bombs was crucial"
The head teacher, George Hehor, said afterwards: “All our local children play in the bushes around the school, so informing them of the dangers of mines and bombs was crucial.
"Sometimes our children are stubborn and they do things simply because we tell them not to.
“The way that this MAG team explained the consequences of playing with mines and bombs was great. The children need to understand that the effects will last forever. The message was strong and easily understandable.”
“This time it was only a cow – hopefully MAG can prevent it from ever being one of our children.”
Angelo spoke at length with the village chief and community members, wrote a detailed report of the team’s findings and passed it on to a MAG Technical Field Manager, who carried out a technical survey in order to more accurately estimate the size of the landmine contamination and to demarcate the area.
“Without the training that MAG has provided me I could never have taken charge of a situation like this,” said Angelo, who has been working for MAG for four years. "Through the years, MAG has really helped me to develop my skills and achieve the very best I can.
Angelo records the GPS coordinates of a safe viewing point close to the minefield.
Angelo has been working for MAG for four years, beginning as a Community Liaison Officer in January 2007. As his knowledge of and enthusiasm for Community Liaison increased he was promoted to Team Leader and then to National Community Liaison Manager.
“I recently attended a three-day managerial course in Juba, where I learnt how to be an assertive manager and how to lead a team with authority and by example. I feel much more confident now.
“This was the first time that I was tasked by my line manager to take on an investigation of this nature.
"When I arrived on the scene I knew I was responsible for the safety of my whole team, as well as for the safety of the entire surrounding community. I knew I had to do everything carefully, thoroughly and meticulously.
“When a mine goes off in my country and hurts a Sudanese person or animal, it pains me. Knowing that I can help to protect my country makes me feel very proud. But I know I have a lot of work to do. With continued support from MAG I can build my capacity to help keep the people of my country safe.”
A MAG technical team of deminers will be deployed to the area to begin the painstaking task of demining the land and making it safe for the community to live, work and play.
MAG's 'Assistance to sustainable development in southern Sudan through demining and Mine Risk Education' project is funded by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (AECID).
• Reporting by Marysia Zapasnik, Community Liaison Manager, MAG Sudan
1 a local staple food made from maize flour
2 a small home made from mud and grass
14 January 2010