MAG Sri Lanka's all-female Mine Action Team pictured in Devapuram, Mannar district this week. [Photos: Sean Sutton/MAG]
International Women’s Day, 8th March, is like any other for MAG Sri Lanka’s Mine Action Team “MAT 10”, whose eight deminers, medic and deputy team leader are all female.
The team is working in the conflict-affected village of Devapuram, Mannar district, clearing the landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) that threaten lives and limbs, and prevent inhabitants from farming their land.
“The work is hard, but this job means I can look after my family and at the same time help the community,” says 29-year-old deminer Ruby. “Giving people their land back and stopping mine injuries means a lot to me.
“I have found about 50 mines. I know it can be risky but I am not afraid, as the training is good and we have clear procedures to make us safe.
“My mother looks after my four-year-old girl. I call my mother every morning – she does worry about me. I also have to call every evening to let her know I am okay and safely out of the minefield.
The all-female team prepares land for demining close to houses.
“I know about International Women’s Day, we talked about it. Women’s Day is about recognition for women; we are strong – we can even be deminers.”
Ruby’s colleague, 22-year-old Menaka, adds: “I have been lucky, but so many have not. Women are often vulnerable and suffered extremely in the war, and we have huge burdens.
“Normally in Sri Lanka women wouldn’t do this kind of work, but with MAG we can and we are happy.”
Team Leader of MAT 10 (which is funded by the US Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement) is Santhiyoga: “The women deminers are clearly as good as male deminers,” he says. “Progress and achievements are the same.
“MAG is about equality and everyone is treated the same. Most of the women are widows and have many people to support. Without this work, their lives would be very hard.
Santhiyoga and Ruby, with one of the many mines found in Devapuram village.
“Women get paid about 9,000 rupees a month for normal work. With MAG, the deminers get at least 29,000 rupees – that is a huge difference. It is demanding, hard work, though.
“For many of them, family members have been injured and killed in the war, so a lot of people depend on these women.
“They are great with me and I don’t have any problems as their manager. They joke with me a lot, but always listen to my instructions.”
Navaseelan with his family: "MAG cleared the area where our home is and is now clearing land for
farming. We are very happy and feel safe here with our children."
Each of the pickets in the foreground shows where a landmine was found.
Devapuram’s villagers were displaced during the country’s conflict, as a result of escalating clashes between Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) and the Sri Lanka Army. In 2007, many of the communities living here were forced out of the homes.
When they returned, they found destroyed and overgrown homes, and their farmland contaminated with landmines and UXO.
“When we came back last September I found some mines close to my house,” Arumugam Navaseelan, a priest at the local Hindi temple, told us. “I was very scared and contacted MAG teams that were working nearby in the village. They immediately started clearing and found quite a lot of mines.
Six-month-old Abishan was born on land cleared by MAG here.
“From the bottom of my heart, I thank MAG. Without them no one would be able to live in the whole village.”
Navaseelan owns nearly seven acres (28,229m²) of land in Devapuram. As a result of his land being released through non-technical survey and clearance, he has been able to cultivate his land for the first time since 2007.
“MAG cleared the area where our home is and is now clearing land for farming. We are very happy and feel safe here with our children.”
How MAG is working in Devapuram
• As people returned to Devapuram following the end of the civil war, MAG Community Liaison teams informed them, through Risk Education, about the areas where they could conduct their day-to-day activities freely and safely.
• Through consultation with men, women and children, local authorities and partner organisations, a 'Safer Village Plan' was formulated, identifying and prioritising the needs of the community and village, including:
- clearing 15 gardens which villagers found to be contaminated when they began to use their land;
- clearing a further 60 garden areas for returnees who were expected from India in January;
- ensuring safe access to a water source used by 34 of the 42 resident families;
- linking with partner organisations to give Risk Education, raising awareness about safe behaviour while the clearance takes place.
Our thanks to the donors to MAG's Sri Lanka programme: AusAID; Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA); NVESD; Stichting Vluchteling; US Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.
8 March 2012