For MAG, it’s all about people. What we do is just as important as how we do it, and we work not only for communities, but with communities too.
In 2018, our programmes benefitted over 1.4 million people in more than 20 countries. Clearing landmines and other unexploded items is a big part of our work, allowing children to walk to school without fear and displaced families to confidently return to their villages, but keeping people safe until the land is cleared is equally important. Using methods such as song, dance and games, risk education sessions help to show people living in areas affected by landmines how they can identify, avoid and report dangerous items.
The protracted humanitarian crisis in north-east Nigeria has brought with it a need for risk education. MAG set up a programme in Nigeria back in 2016 to deliver risk education to internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees fleeing from other countries bordering the Lake Chad Basin. During these sessions, our teams often hear from people like Bintu, a 25-year old mother of five who spoke of the time she nearly picked up an unexploded item without knowing what it was.
“I was out collecting firewood and I came across an unexploded item,” she said. “I picked it up as I wanted to take it home, thinking I could somehow use it. But my wood bundle was large and heavy, so I couldn’t carry it with me and left it there. I had no idea it was unsafe and I feel very fortunate nothing happened to me.”
Sadly, not everybody in the area walks away unharmed after finding a dangerous item. Children like Ali, a 12-year-old boy who was injured by a hand grenade while out collecting firewood and food for his family, benefit enormously from MAG’s risk education sessions.
“I went hunting in the nearby bushes with my friends, and we came across a small round object on the ground,” Ali told our team in Nigeria. “We had no knowledge of unexploded items and the dangers, and out of curiosity we went closer. One of my friends began using a stick to hit it. I remember hearing a big sound, and the next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital. I was told that two of my friends died immediately after the explosion and two other friends were injured.”
In total last year, MAG programmes delivered 52,000 risk education sessions, helping to prevent casualties like those suffered by Ali and his friends. As well as gaining life-saving knowledge from the work that we do, communities can contribute in a unique way.
Nobody knows an area better than the members of the community. Alponsio was born and raised in Lobonok, a rural village in South Sudan, and used to be a soldier in the Sudanese army. His first deployment was in his home village, so his knowledge of where the landmines were planted was invaluable to our teams working to clear them. The entire village of Lobonok was cleared by the end of 2018, allowing people to farm their land again and access the local health clinic and nursery.
Dialogue with communities is often the first step once MAG teams are on the ground, allowing us to find out where previous landmine accidents have occurred and what the most urgent needs are. MAG has worked in Iraq since 1992, but the complex and ongoing conflict means that the needs of communities change. We spoke to Sami, who lost two family members while fleeing his landmine-ridden hometown and later shared his tragic story with our teams.
“We decided to run away to a safe area with some of our relatives,” he told us. “When we reached the far areas of our village, a mine exploded on my cousin and his son and they died immediately.”
Speaking to Sami and others highlighted the threat they would face when returning home, and the need for risk education to keep them safe.
Saving lives and building safer futures is MAG’s ultimate mission. Talking to the communities affected by landmines enables us to enhance our impact through sensitive, quality programming, putting people and their voices at the very heart of our work.