Since March 2016, Handicap International has educated nearly 20,000 people in northern Mali about the dangers posed by small arms, light weapons, and explosive remnants of war (ERW). Due to the conflict that occurred in 2012 and 2013, northern Mali has a very high incidence of weapons-related accidents.
Education teams travel from village to village, gathering residents for hour-long awareness sessions. They use photos and illustrations to explain the threat posed by firearms and ERW, and to demonstrate what actions people need to take to protect themselves.
"The local people are often unaware of the threat a weapon might pose," explains Pascal Mvogo, the Armed Violence Reduction Project Manager. "A villager recently found a grenade next to his house. He kept it under his bed. However, we teach the people that when they find a weapon they need to immediately report it to the authorities. As for the explosive devices left behind after fighting, they are not always instantly recognizable. A booby trap can look like a can of tomatoes. People must never pick up an object unless they know exactly what it is."
In the regions of Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu, Handicap International has identified 70 new victims of accidents caused by weapons or explosives between March and May 2016.
In this region of the country, carrying a weapon is incredibly common, even among children. It is difficult to persuade the men to give up their weapons, which are seen as a sign of virility. They also have a monetary value, making most reluctant to relinquish them.
Although Handicap International educators generally do not directly approach people carrying firearms, they do work with their families and friends. They also warn adults about the dangers of children handling weapons. Facilitators stress that it is adults who need to explain the situation to the boys carrying weapons, inform them of the dangers, and ensure they hand their weapons over.
The risk education sessions also alert people to the dangers posed by ERW and how to report their discovery to the relevant authorities. The facilitators teach lessons on reassuring and providing first aid for the victims of explosives, while emphasizing that people should not rush towards the victim as there is always the risk of there being another explosive device nearby.