MAG Sudan staff deliver Mine Risk Education to 670 returnees.
MAG is working to protect returnees coming back to southern Sudan ahead of January’s referendum. MAG Community Liaison Manager Marysia Zapasnik reports from the grounds of the Southern Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission.
The scene was one of excitement, nervousness, anticipation and sheer exhaustion. The last eight days spent on an excruciatingly hot and packed boat from Khartoum to Bor in Jonglei state had clearly taken its toll on the 670 recent arrivals.
The returnees had travelled south down the White Nile from Khartoum to Bor.
All were returning to settle back in southern Sudan and take part in next month’s referendum to determine whether the south stays part of a united Sudan or becomes independent.
Dressed in their best clothes, carrying bags of luggage and resting in whatever shade they could find, the 74 girls, 56 boys, 402 women and 138 men crowded into the dusty compound grounds of the Southern Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission waiting to be officially registered by the local authorities.
Mothers breastfed their infants, older children looked after their younger siblings and men stood in tight-nit groups, deep in discussion.
"I hope one day all the mines and bombs will be cleared from southern Sudan, but until then all we have is our new knowledge to keep us safe. Thank you MAG."
“We welcome you to southern Sudan,” began William, one of the Community Liaison Officers, speaking in Arabic to ensure people from five different tribes − Nuer, Dinka, Morlei, Anwak and Chulu − would understand him. Once the cheering had died down, he continued:
“We are happy you have returned to register for the referendum and to live your new lives. We know that you want your children to grow up in a peaceful and safe place, and we are here today to give you some very important information to help you protect yourselves and your families.”
The Community Liaison team showed the returnees large banners with pictures of the various landmines most commonly found in southern Sudan, and explained to the people how best to protect themselves from the mines, which areas to avoid and which warning signs, both local and international, to recognise.
Returnees gather at the SSRRC compound, awaiting registration for next month's referendum.
[Photos: MAG Sudan]
Large banners with pictures of commonly found unexploded ordnance (UXO) were then shown. Again the message was clear: stay away and do not touch.
The returnees were also given information regarding whom to inform if they did see any mines or UXO.
Rachel Full, 28 and mother of five, noticed that her children were not paying attention. “Look, we did not have things like this in Khartoum,” she told them. “If we are to stay safe here in our new home, you must look and listen carefully.”
After the MRE session was finished, the team mingled in the crowd and answered any questions the returnees had, in a more informal and relaxed manner. They moved from shady area to shady area and ensured they approached groups of women as well as men.
Grace Akwal Gak, 35 and mother of seven, sat with her children and read to them from the leaflet given out by the team which contains simple information about safe behaviour.
Grace shows her children the safety messages leaflet.
“I am going to stay with my brother,” Grace explained. “He lives in Bor County and has agreed to take us in and look after us. But I do not know if he knows about the dangers of mines and unexploded bombs.
“I am happy MAG has given us these leaflets to take away with us. I will use the leaflet to remind myself and my children of the important information we received today, and to share our new knowledge with my brother and his family. We want to be safe in our new home.”
The team asked for two volunteers from each of the five tribes, one man and one woman, to receive further training and become Community Volunteers. The volunteers will become focal points for their communities, and will be able to repeat and spread the safety messages over the following weeks, months and years.
MAG Community Liaison staff discuss the importance of safety messages with the nominated Community Volunteers.
“I am proud to be a Community Volunteer and will take on my new role very seriously,” promised John Garang. “It will be my responsibility to make sure the people in my community do not forget the information we received today. And if I find or hear of any suspicious or unknown item, I shall report it immediately to the authorities.”
Inchal Agot, another newly appointed Community Volunteer, spoke of her surprise and fear at the start of the MRE session: “At first I was confused and scared. Why were these people trying to scare us on this special day? We are all so tired after our long journey and the first assistance we received was information about the dangers we may face in our new homes.
“But now I am very happy. I am happy we have this knowledge. What MAG did here today is a very good thing. We cannot hide from the dangers of mines – we must educate ourselves and learn how to stay safe. I hope one day all the mines and bombs will be cleared from southern Sudan, but until then all we have is our new knowledge to keep us safe. Thank you MAG.”
MAG's project to support the safer return and resettlement of returnees and internally displaced persons in southern Sudan is funded by the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, US Department of State.
• Reporting by Marysia Zapasnik, Community Liaison Manager, MAG Sudan
23 December 2010
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