South Sudan’s conflicts have resulted in high levels of contamination by mines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war. This contamination threatens lives, curtails freedom of movement and safe returns, limits access to arable land, disenfranchises communities and above all instils fear and insecurity for decades after the end of conflict.
It presents a key challenge to South Sudan’s reconstruction efforts and daily life-threatening risks to civilians. MAG has worked in the territory that is now South Sudan since 2004, clearing land and providing risk education on explosive ordnance to keep communities safe.
Meet some of our team in South Sudan, and people supported by our work.
8 years ago, when Monica was expecting her second child, she fled the conflict in South Sudan with her parents and children and travelled to Uganda for safety.
“The war was very difficult. We couldn’t stay in the village. We saw so many things. People were killed. Houses were burnt to the ground. We stayed in a refugee camp and I came back after 5 years to try to find work, then got the job with MAG.”
She joined MAG as a cook, before progressing to a deminer in 2020 when MAG appointed 20 women as part of a project to get more women into demining.
“The men always accepted us – we are equals in everything and there is no difference in what we do.”
With her wage, Monica is now able to pay for private accommodation in Uganda for her children, and also pay for their schooling.
“I miss my children of course as I only see them three times a year. But we can talk on Whatsapp and I know they are very proud of me. I am also very proud of myself and the work I do.”
Nicholas’s family returned to their ancestral home just five weeks ago after enduring an on and off exile in the refugee camps of Uganda for 28 years.
They first fled their village in Ayii, South Sudan, in 1995 when civil war tore through their community.
They returned 13 years later, in 2008, but then fled again in 2013, when further conflict broke out shortly after the country gained its independence.
“There was peace for five years and then we had to flee again and go back the refugee camps in Uganda. It was not safe for us – the soldiers and the fighting swept through this village because it is close to the main highway. So we escaped.
I came back a couple of months ago to plant crops and within just a few days I found an unexploded cluster bomb. I told the authorities and MAG was called in. They have been clearing this land – our ancestral land - ever since and the progress has enabled the rest of the family to leave the refugee camps in Uganda and come home.”
Nicholas has now been joined by his sister Santa, 62, and niece Grace, 34, and her nine children. Their crops are emerging from the soil they have tilled and they are rebuilding their houses which were destroyed in the conflict and which also claimed the life of Grace’s husband.
He says: “I am feeling positive and happy now. I am encouraging others from the village to also return as soon as MAG has finished making the fields safe.
We will grow cassava, maize and fava beans. My hope is that will grow enough to be able to sell some produce as well and pay for the children to go to school. We want to rebuild our village and I have plans to set up a co-operative so that the villagers can work together to ensure we are sharing our resources.”
The family is in the process of rebuilding their homes that were destroyed in the conflict.
Nicholas’ sister Santa said: “In the refugee camps the rations have been cut and they are not giving people enough food and we were always hungry. We worried about the children.
It would be impossible to live here and grow crops because of the bombs but we know that when MAG has finally cleared all of the land we will be able to thrive as a family.”
Monica, 21, had pursued a different career before joining MAG.
“I trained as an accountant but replied to an advert for a job as a deminer and went through the training.”
She has now worked for MAG for three years.
“My family is in Juba and at first my parents were worried and they weren't happy.
Now they accept it and they know I love my job.
It’s tough work but it's enjoyable, we are a team and we are happy together. These women who I work with are my sisters.”
Lado is one of MAG’s Technical Field Managers, who actively manage and lead our teams to safely implement life-saving mine clearance work.
He has been a deminer for 20 years, including in Zimbabwe, and now has three children.
“My family live in Uganda because it wasn’t safe here because of the security situation, also because the education system is better in Uganda and my job means I can pay for my children to go to a good school. I am able to rent a private house there and give my family a good life.
When we clear the land and see people come back and begin to cultivate their crops it gives us all a feeling of deep satisfaction.
You see children playing, growing up, having a healthy diet, and you see how happy their parents are to be able to provide this life for their children,
You really feel like every day you are doing something for the community and for the country.
Of course, I miss my children but so many of us have our families in the refugee camps or if they are lucky are able to rent a private house or apartment.
But we all want to come home to South Sudan. These are our ancestral lands. Home is home. Our culture is important and we want our children to know where they are from and who they are.
My work means this can happen and this makes me very proud.”
Find out more about our work in South Sudan here.