Vladan Nikolic, Program Support Officer for Humanity & Inclusion, is just home from visiting an important demining project in Colombia that's funded by the U.S. Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. He visited a mine field, and saw the full spectrum of HI's work to protect civilians living near landmines. While there, a deminer at another site was stung by a scorpion. Later that day, a team deployed to clear a suspected landmine along a schoolyard path. Scroll down to see what it was! As he puts it, "even heroes have bad days." Here are some of his trip highlights:
Aderito Ismael, head of Humanity & Inclusion's demining operations in Colombia, and previously of our work in Mozambique, delivers a briefing on the technical aspects of demining. He explained how each demining team stakes out the locations they'll clear, and the colors they use to communicate what they're doing and how to stay safe.
Our team met with Gloria, a beneficiary whose husband died ten years ago when he stepped on an explosive. Her five-year-old son at the time was injured in the accident. Since then, he's had 17 surgeries and continues to struggle with his sight and hearing. Our team is providing him with care, including help earning a living.
Here, we're traveling across one of many rivers from the main office to a demining camp. Lucky for me, it's the end of Colombia's rainy season, so we could actually cross this portion of the river!
Alongside members of a local farming community, I attended a risk education session led by an HI community liaison officer. The community learned about the dangers of explosive remnants of war, and how to spot, avoid, and report any weapons they may find.
The tire from a toy truck was flipped upside down and filled with mud. As you can see, it really does look like a mine! But we were so relieved when we found out it wasn't a deadly explosive on a path heavily traveled by children.
PS - NPR's Jason Beaubien traveled to Colombia in September 2017, where he met up with HI's demining team. His report explains how HI demines, and what the team found packed in a baby food jar. Listen in!
On the International Day for Mine Awareness, Humanity & Inclusion warns that civilians cannot continue to bear the brunt of global conflicts, with casualty rates rising drastically worldwide.Read more
Five years ago, while Xiemna, 33, was putting her son to bed, a grenade was thrown into her home in Colombia drastically changing her life within seconds. On that day, she lost both of her children and sustained serious injures. With support from Humanity & Inclusion, she has been given psychological support and has now set up her own homemade yogurt business. Xiemna and her husband, Armando tell their story:Read more
“I didn’t know what it was,” Jemerson explains of the mine he found on the road in May 2015. He was ten, and he and his two cousins were heading to a farm to gather mandarins. “It was an accident. I picked it up with my right hand, then my left hand, and it exploded.”Read more
Leonadia, 19, comes from La Union, a small village in Cauca. Here, she explains why she clears mines: “I wanted to be independent, leave home, and stand on my own two feet. I didn’t know anything about mines. I applied to be a mine clearance expert and did the one-month intensive training course. It’s my first job. We started working in La Venta, Cajibío, in July 2017. I cut the grass, prod the earth, and gradually move forward. It’s physical work. I know the risks but I tell myself everything’s going to be all right. It’s not always easy to share the kitchen, the tent, and toilets for six weeks, but we’re like a family. I’m proud of doing something to bring about peace in my country. I miss my boyfriend, but we call each other every day.”
Virgilio, 39, fixes you with his serious, slightly mischievous stare. He supervises HI’s team of mine clearance experts in the municipality of Cajibío (Cauca, Colombia). It was a natural choice of career for Virgilio. “The country was very volatile when I was growing up. There was a lot of violence and it was very tense. I saw people maimed and wounded. My family and I were displaced by force twice - we had to leave Medellin and then Nariño. We had two hours to leave everything behind – our home, our plantations. Our animals were going to die. It was very hard. Today, I want to save lives and to help bring peace to my country. I started by working for an American mine clearance organization and, since 2017, for HI. When I tell people I clear mines, they say: “You’re crazy! You look for explosive devices in the ground without knowing exactly where they are!” I feel confident, though. The hardest thing is to be separated from my wife and son – I see them every six weeks. But I’m proud of my work and of helping restore land to indigenous communities and peasants.”
“I come from the NASA indigenous community in Corinto, Cauca. My wife, Francy, is a student. I’ve always helped to defend my country. I was a soldier in Florencia for eight years. It was a bleak time and I don’t find it easy to forget those years. I remember one particularly awful experience: we were being chased so we had to run and climb through some barbed wire. My friend, another soldier, who was close to me, stepped on a mine, which exploded. He was covered in blood and his leg was badly injured. Two other soldiers behind him were wounded. They were taken away in a helicopter. My friend didn’t survive – he died in the air. It was awful. We were really close. And it could have been me. Two years later, I’d reached the end of my tether, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I left, got married, and started working on coffee plantations again.
At the end of 2016, I applied to be a mine clearance expert with Humanity & Inclusion (then, Handicap International). I’ve seen so many people with injuries, people maimed by the conflict. I never want another child or indigenous person to be injured by a mine again. What drives me is the team. We’re like a family. We spend our lives together. We get up at 4:30 am and go to bed at 9:00 pm. We stick together when we’re feeling stressed, and remind each other that our job is really worthwhile. My dream is to lead a team of mine clearance experts one day.”