“I was on the bus on my way home from school,” José explains. “I felt a sharp pain in my leg and wanted to get up to run away, but couldn’t.” In 2000, then 18-year-old José lost his right leg in a mine accident in Colombia.
During that time, he lived with his mother on a farm in the Cauca region. “We had a small pig farm and grew coriander which provided enough for us to live on,” José continues. “During the week, I went to school and in the evenings and weekends, I worked.
“The Cauca region was very severely affected by the conflict that ripped Colombia apart for almost fifty years. After the fighting, explosive remnants of war were often left strewn along the roadside, clearly visible and likely to be triggered at any moment. I’ve wondered, how many times did we disturb mines in the river with our feet? I have terrible memories of this period: the image of children enrolled in the armed groups, parading with their rifles. Horrible.
José explains that having his leg amputated was the beginning of a very painful period. "I lost everything. My leg. My job. My future career. I had to give up on my hopes. Everything was ruined.
“Then I met Handicap International.” After receiving a new artificial leg, Handicap International and partner organization, Teirra de Paz gave hope back to José. “They made it possible for me to receive rehabilitation care to learn how to use my prosthesis, and gave me psychological support.
“They also provided me with legal assistance which allowed me to obtain a small pension. The financial support I received allowed me to take up my studies again, and find a new job, a leader in the Cauca Mine Victims Foundation.
“The assistance Handicap International gave me was vital for me and my future. Today, I am walking again. I have an income, I know my rights, and I want to encourage my son to move forward with his life.
"Thanks to Handicap International's mine clearance work we will be able to move around freely again. Colombia is a large, mountainous country that has been devastated by the war. It will take a long time to free the country of mines. But we will get there, eventually."
COLOMBIA: ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST DENSELY MINED COUNTRIES
As part of the new peace agreements between the government and Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), the Colombian government granted Handicap International full authorization in May 2016 to conduct mine clearance operations in three of the country’s regions. Handicap International has since launched a five-year mine clearance operation, with a specific focus on indigenous land, in the regions of Cauca, Meta, and Caquetá. Learn more about our work in Colombia.
"One day, when I was 24 years old, I was with my uncle and we found a long tube,” Freddy explains. “I tapped it with a hammer and it exploded, seriously injuring my hand.” Freddy, along with his wife and daughter lived in the countryside, in the Vereda La Primavera region of Colombia. Members of the Nasa indigenous community, Freddy and his wife cooked on open fires and used water from the river.
Freddy worked on the coffee, yucca, and corn plantations, alongside other members of his community. And although the country’s 50 years of armed conflict recently came to an end, that doesn’t keep people from living in fear. “We’re constantly looking over our shoulders. In the wake of the conflict that ripped our country apart for years, the ground is littered with explosive remnants of war. We didn’t know what they were.”
Mines and explosive remnants of war contaminate 31 of Colombia's 32 regions. Since 1990, the use of improvised explosive devices has become systematic, generating more than 11,100 casualties, among the injured: Freddy.
On that dark day, Freddy had two of his fingers amputated. “The accident destroyed me,” he says. “I suffered a series of disasters. I started drinking, my wife left me, and I lost my father. I was no longer able to work the land. It was a very dark time.”
Freddy says he restored hope when he met Handicap International: "I have the courage to carry on. I received help with my health issues as well as psychological support. The organization helped me get involved with defending the rights of the indigenous communities, which are victims of the conflict.
“First, I became an accountant, then, an advisor for the organization. I also received financial support that allowed me to start up a small chicken breeding business. I have other plans, including recording a second album of music.
“Without the support of Handicap International, I would never have had the courage to carry on with life, never mind developing my projects. Our rights have been trampled, but we are survivors. There is a brighter future ahead."
COLOMBIA: ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST DENSELY MINED COUNTRIES
As part of the new peace agreements between the government and Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), the Colombian government granted Handicap International full authorization in 2016 to conduct mine clearance operations in three of the country’s regions. Handicap International has since launched a five-year mine clearance operation, with a specific focus on indigenous land, in the regions of Cauca, Meta, and Caquetá. Learn more about our work in Colombia.
“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.”
World's second most-densely mined country
Ravaged by 50 years of armed conflict, Colombia is the world’s second-most densely mined country, just behind Afghanistan. Mines and explosive remnants of war contaminate land in 31 of Colombia's 32 regions. Since 1990, the use of improvised explosive devices has become systematic, generating more than 11,100 casualties.Read more
Since 1996, Handicap International has managed the only rehabilitation center in Kandahar, Afghanistan, providing comprehensive services to disabled people. In 2015, the center hosted more than 7,000 patients. On average, 20% of new arrivals have a lower limb amputated as a result of landmines, improvised explosive devices, and other weapons.Read more