Azerbaijan: Summer Camp for Mine Victims
The activity was role play, and the action was common. The boy untied his shoelace, put his right arm behind his back, then, with only one free arm, attempted to retie his shoe. Sadly, this is the truth for all too many of Azerbaijan’s children.
When a child’s life is blown apart by a land mine, that child faces a long road ahead, and not only in terms of physical healing. In a survey of mine survivors conducted by ANAMA in 2003-2004, it became clear that the children simply wanted their lives back. That’s because the psychological and social implications of sustaining a disabling injury in Azerbaijan can be just as devastating as losing a limb.
The survey uncovered an area of need that underscores UNICEF’s efforts at assimilating disabled children into society and changing the national mentality regarding these special children. And because mine victims have already suffered immeasurably from the hardships of a post-conflict, IDP situation, UNICEF decided to take action. Jointly with the groups Initiative for the Sake of Development and Azerbaijan Republic Child Organization, UNICEF held its first annual summer of Camps for Mine Victims.
In the summer of 2005, UNICEF invited 115 child survivors and children of survivor families, who are also affected by the burdens of an unexpected and devastating injury, to partake in one of two back-to-back camp sessions. UNICEF invited 115 child survivors and children of survivor families, who are also affected by the burdens of an unexpected and devastating injury, to partake in one of two back-to-back camp sessionsKids participated in a number of activities designed to facilitate the healing process, including discussions, drawing, and role play. In the discussions, the children revealed that they missed having friends, going to school, sports and recreational activities. Most of all, they missed being accepted.
Camp leaders also conducted Mine Risk Education workshops intended to reinforce mine awareness while creating another front in reaching friends, family and the wider community. There is also the expectation that the added public awareness raised by the camps will support UNICEF’s larger efforts at getting Azerbaijani society to accept the disabled as normal, functioning members of the community. But it wasn’t all work at camp. The children were treated to a number of field trips culminating in an excursion to the ancient mountain city of Sheki, where they played games, visited the city and cut loose at a barbeque. Camp goers also received, free of charge, the benefit of basic services that they would not otherwise dream of: extra clothing and toiletries, regular well-rounded meals, health care and mentoring by camp facilitators.
By the end of camp, there were no more horrible depictions of mine accidents scrawled in black crayon. Instead, the kids were back to drawing typically well-adjusted illustrations of houses, flowers, animals and trucks. Some children even remarked that they would like to one day become MRE activists. But these achievements aside, the majority of them were just happy to have new friends and to feel normal again.