Pic of the Day: Mine Risk Education in South Sudan
This MAG Community Liaison team (funded by DFID - UK Department for International Development) is pictured working at Lelere village school in Eastern Equatoria state, to increase the children’s awareness of the dangers posed by landmines and unexploded ordnance.
Pic of the Day: Celebrating International Women’s Day
Aya Sovia is a Community Liaison Officer with MAG in South Sudan, working to keep people safe from landmines, unexploded ordnance and abandoned munitions…
“I have two children, aged eight and four, and also support my brother and his wife, plus their five children. My brother doesn’t earn much, and sometimes doesn’t get paid for three months.
“I have been with MAG for two years. The work is really good. We interact with so many people and so many communities. We help them to lower their risk [from explosive weapons]. We work with children too and we train teachers so they can keep spreading the safety messages. We also make sure that people in the community know who to report any dangerous items to. They know how to contact us – they have our phone numbers.
“It is really good working close to the technical team because when we identify danger they can come quickly [to remove the landmine(s)/unexploded ordnance]; the community is not just safer, but they feel confident and will tell us about other problems they have.
“It is very important to have women in the team. Often communities feel happier talking to a woman, especially for the females in the community.”
For more about Community Liaison, please visit www.maginternational.org/cl.
by Marysia Zapasnik
To mark the International Day of the African Child MAG Community Liaison teams visited the Juba Orphanage for a fun afternoon together. Thirty-seven children live there aged two to 12. We gave them a child friendly Risk Education session which included songs, dances, games and lots of action and energy.
“We want to……..STAY SAFE!” sang the CL teams and children together.
We gave the children pictures to colour with safety messages about not touching dangerous items, looking after each other and playing only in safe places. We helped the children decorate their dormitory walls with these colourful pictures and asked each to tell us a safety message they could pass on to their friends.
“I will tell my friend Sekina to tell an adult if she sees something she does not know what it is,” explained 8 year old Kani.
Face painting, bubble blowing, and balloon volleyball we also part of the fun afternoon, as was a picnic with juice and biscuits, underneath the mango tree. The community liaison teams also had their faces painted. “We are also African children,” said CLM Angelo Lawrence. “It is a day for all of us to have fun together”.
Mine seeking and bug eating
by Marysia Zapasnik
This morning MAG TFM, Edin Muric, travelled to the location of a recently reported minefield. The minefield is in the middle of a teak plantation in Keregulu village, Central Equatoria State. The trees were planted by the local community in the 1960s, before the war began. Now the trees are ready to be chopped down, but the mines laid during the war makes this impossible.
“The timber from these trees will be used by local youth to make furniture and building materials,” explained local village elder, John Chol. “We need this timber for the livelihood of our whole village.”
One hundred metres from the minefield, down the muddy road is a village market, selling mangoes, sorghum, sugar, soap, and peanut paste. 250m in the other direction is the village primary school, with 400 young children dressed in bright lilac and yellow uniforms.
“Wow,” exclaimed Edin. “With a village market and primary school so close, this minefield is definitely a priority for MAG to clear.”.
Edin completed the initial survey with sweat running off his brow. The humidity of the rainy season can be almost intolerable.
On the way back to the base he stopped at another village market and bought a snack to eat – a handful of roasted white ants – full of protein, a little crunchy and a whole lot of living ‘on the wild side’.
A safe place to graze
by Marysia Zapasnik
The most vulnerable members of any community are often the children. This is especially true in South Sudan, where children as young as three walk around unaccompanied in bushy areas that can be contaminated with explosive remnants of war. Children as young as six are often given the chore of grazing animals.
Today we met 11 year old Nassir and his two baby goats Leben (milk) and Chorba (soup). He was wandering about the bushy wasteland on the outskirts of an IDP camp near the border with the Sudan. People use that wasteland to bury their dead, graze their animals, defecate and collect grass for their shelters. Unexploded ordnance (UXO) has been reported there.
We explained the dangers to Nassir and asked if he could perhaps find another area to graze his goats. He explained that his family had only just returned to South Sudan from the north. He did not know where else to go with his goats and was worried the local host community would chase him away from another area.
We organised a meeting with the local host authorities and the camp representatives. It was agreed that children could graze their animals on the wasteland the other side of the camp, where there had been no reports of dangers.
Now Nassir, and all the other children in the Abayok camp can carry out their daily chores of grazing animals in a much safer way.
Better safe than sorry
by Marysia Zapasnik
We travelled north seven hours by road and arrived in another camp. After the Risk Education session, twelve year old Susan came up to us.
“Excuse me, I have seen one of those bad things by my grandmother’s shelter,” she said in a quiet voice.
We showed her the pictures of mines and UXO again, and asked her to point to the item that she had seen. Confidently, and without hesitation, she pointed to an anti-tank mine. She took us close to the grass hut in which she was staying with her grandmother and pointed at a metal object only just poking out of the ground. It was about the size of dinner plate. It really did look like an anti-tank mine, so we immediately evacuated the area.
However, after careful inspection from a safe viewing point, we concluded the item was just a piece of scrap metal. We told everyone they could return to their shelters as the area was safe, and we thanked Susan for her excellent observation and reporting skills.
“I reported the item because these people [MAG] told me about all the bad things mines can do to us,” explained Susan. “I wanted to protect my grandmother. She is the only family I have, she looks after me and I look after her.”
We left the area with a very scary thought: if a piece of scrap metal can look almost exactly like a mine, so a mine can look almost exactly like a piece of scrap metal. In a resource poor country like South Sudan, people often pick up any piece of scrap they can, hoping to make it into something useful. These people truly are at risk.
Spreading safety messages
by Marysia Zapasnik
We woke early this morning, at first light, and made out way to the way station in Malakal, South Sudan. We had heard that a barge was arriving with hundreds of returnees on board. After decades of war, they were finally coming back to their homeland. Excited shouts and cheers filled the air.
Many were wearing their best clothes and had colourful rosaries around their necks. They had survived the war, they had escaped the recent fighting on the border and now they were back home. There were hanging on to mattresses, suitcases, blankets, baskets, buckets, bed frames, hold-alls, and a couple of bicycles - all their worldly possessions.
While they waited to be registered, we began introducing ourselves and organising the crowd into smaller groups.
“Are you doctors?” one of the returnees, Sunday Simon, asked. “Are you here to give us food? To give us building materials?”
“No,” we replied. “We are here to protect you and your family and friends from landmines and other dangerous items.”
There was a sharp intake of breath, then Sunday moved into action: “Hey everyone, come here and listen to these people. South Sudan is still not safe! We must know what the dangers are.”
And so we began our work. We showed pictured of landmines and other explosive remnants of war and helped people to recognise them and not mistake them for other items. We explained what could happen if dangerous items were touched or moved and, using bright posters, we discussed risky and safe behaviour.
Children clambered on top of luggage to get a better view. As I sat with the youngest children and sang our ‘Mine Song’ to them, four-year-old Taban Lino reached out gingerly to touch my ‘white’ arm. He pulled some of my blonde hairs and smiled up at me. I was happy he felt safe and I truly hope that the time we spent with his family today will keep him safe forever.