Angola remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, with over 73 million square metres of land contaminated and over 1,100 known and suspected minefields. Millions of landmines and other unexploded bombs are still scattered throughout the country - the legacy of over 40 years of conflict.
MAG has been working in Angola since 1994. In the last decade alone, and with the support of the Angolan government, we have cleared more than 10 million square metres of minefields for communities—the equivalent of 1,400 football pitches.
A few weeks ago, our Director of Engagement, Jon Brown, visited Angola to meet some of the teams carrying out this life-saving work, and the people who have experienced the effects of Angola’s civil war first-hand.
Meet three of them here.
Some 13 years ago, in a small Angolan village, Minga's life changed in the violent flash of an explosion.
As a six-year-old, Minga picked up a small shiny object she thought was a toy. It exploded in her hands. The explosion permanently blinded Minga and her right arm had to be amputated.
Minga's story is, sadly, similar to that of thousands of children in the region.
Thanks to the generous support of our donors, MAG has been able to provide life-changing services for Minga, including a scholarship to attend a school for deaf and blind students in the Angolan capital Moxico.
Minga is now proficient in reading and writing in Braille and has mastered a custom-made, one-handed Braille typewriter for completing her classwork.
Today she is one of MAG’s risk education specialists, travelling around Moxico province – an area that was at the epicentre of the war – and visiting small villages to teach communities about the hazards of unexploded ordnance and landmines.
She is also a new mother, with a five-month-old baby son, Edevaldo Daniel, to care for.
She says: “I am happy that my son will not face the same dangers as I did and that he will be safer thanks to the work that people like I and my colleagues do. He gives me hope for the future – for me personally and also for my country.
“When I had my accident I was just a small child. I found something that I thought was a tin and I tried to knock the sand off it. It just exploded. I thought my life was over. Now I speak to people about my personal experience so they can learn from it, telling my personal story is always the last thing we do in our risk education sessions.”
Minga’s delivers her sessions in partnership with colleague Reeta, now a close friend as well as a colleague.
Reeta says: “When Minga talks about her experience as a child and the effect it had on her whole life, I can see that some people are in tears. We are a good team – we really get the message across to people who still have to live with this danger."
"I can tell you my story. I have a history to tell.”
Seven-year-old Domingish da Silva fled into the bush when the soldiers came. His parents, who were working in the fields, escaped in the opposite direction. It took 21 years and an odyssey of war and want for them to be reunited.
Today, Domingish is the Muhinhi (senior chief) of the township of Lucusse in Angola, a now thriving community of some 23,000 people which only in the last 12 months has finally emerged from the legacy of a conflict that ended 20 years ago.
The 48-year-old sat under the shade of a mango tree outside their mud house with his elderly parents at his side. His mother, Veronica, is a landmine survivor and amputee so had to be carried by her family to join us.
“I was born here in this place. The soldiers and the war arrived when I was seven. There were bullets and shells everywhere. It was terrifying for me. My older sister and brother and I ran away into the bush to hide.
“Our parents were working in the fields and we were cut off from them by the fighting. They also had to flee and of course in those days we had no mobile phones, no way of staying in contact. We were lost children and they were lost parents. We were a lost family.
“It would be 16 years until I was certain they were alive and another five years until we were reunited. I think it is a miracle that all these years later we are together again.”
In the immediate aftermath of their escape, he and his siblings survived by foraging for food in the bush and the fields and by picking up work where they could. They ended up in the regional capital Luena, 130 km away from their village.
Their parents, meanwhile, were forced to flee over the border into neighbouring Zambia, where they spent the next 20 years of their lives in a United Nations refugee camp.
“When we were fleeing there was no place of safety. We took food from the fields and did what we could to survive. The soldiers would force people to go back to the village but everywhere there were landmines.”
He and his siblings returned to the village twice during fragile periods of peace. Domingish says: “This whole area was covered in landmines. The village was surrounded. When we first returned, the soldiers would clear a path through the belt of mines so we could go to the fields in the morning. Then they would relay the mines at nightfall so the town was entirely surrounded again.”
The family was reunited when Domingish’s parents were repatriated by the International Red Cross in 2004.
Domigish’s father Lucian said: “It is so bad to be separated from your children by war. We had no choice. The fighting tore us apart. It was the happiest day of our lives when we were reunited and we met again.
“But we can never forget that a huge part of our lives was destroyed by war and even with peace there was fear and harm because of all the landmines.”
Indeed, the family’s trauma didn’t end with their eventual reunion. Not long after returning to the village, Domingish’s mother Veronica stepped on an anti-personnel landmine which had been laid in the fields. Her right leg was amputated above the knee.
Veronica, who when asked her age just laughed and shrugged, said: “It is very difficult to come home after so many years and then have such an accident. But at least I have my family with me now.”
Ngoie and her team
Ngoie Mulunda Groyca is 34 and has been a deminer for five years. She now has her senior Explosive Ordnance Disposal qualifications and is a supervisor.
She leads almost 30 staff across two teams comprising deminers and key support staff such as medics.
Ngoie says: “When I first started I was ready to resign. During the training we were shown videos and pictures of the consequences of landmine accidents and then we actually got into the field I was constantly worried about snakes and insects. It’s really tough work, especially when it’s very hot, because of the heavy protective equipment we have to wear.
“My family and friends were also nervous and really didn’t want me to do the job. I can understand that.
“But then I became used to the work, I guess, and I started to really enjoy it. My family also became more confident as I reassured them about how strict we are in the way we operate. We have such a good team spirit and my colleagues are my friends.
“We’re all very proud to be doing such important work for our country and our communities. Every day we can see the progress we make, the number of metres we’ve made safe, the landmines we’ve found and destroyed. You can see the difference.”
MAG has been operating in Angola since 1994 to make land safe for populations affected by years of conflict. Read more.