Angola

Youth groups helping Angola overcome poisonous legacy of landmines

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Angola/2004/Elder
10-year-old Cahoje uses a mine symbol to explain to a crowd of children the dangers of landmines
Angola is one of the world’s most heavily mined countries. As it seeks to rebuild after almost three decades of war, youth groups are navigating the country spreading the message of mine awareness.

LUANDA, 24 November 2004 – With tears streaming from his eyes, 10-year-old Cahoje throws himself onto the dirt. His father has just thumped his plough into a landmine and the blast appears to have taken off his leg. Cahoje trembles with the shock and then screams. The child’s frantic cry quickly silences the crowd gathered to watch this piece of mine risk education theatre.

As the performance continues, Cahoje runs to get help and then stops other villagers from taking the same path as his father. It’s a powerful 10 minutes that goes a long way to warning Angolans of the peacetime perils which continue to lie underfoot.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Angola/2004/Elder
Cahoje and his father, Cahoje Sr., together after a Palanca Negra performance
For the past three years, Cahoje has been part of the UNICEF-supported Angolan youth group ‘Palanca Negra’, one of seven youth groups which work in the most heavily mined regions of Angola, with funds and training provided by UNICEF.

In a country with almost as many landmines (six million) as children (eight million), mine-risk education is vital. In 2003, there was a mine incident every second day in Angola. Thus far, in 2004, there has been one incident every four days. Often, the victims are children.

“When a child speaks to other children, the others watch more, they learn more,” says Cahoje, minutes after the performance, which riveted the attention of more than 100 children. One of the youngest NGO workers in Angola, Cahoje brings years of experience to his work. First in the audience as a baby, by age seven, Cahoje’s dad – also part of Palanca Negra – agreed to let him act on stage. 

“When I am acting, I pretend that the boy who was wounded was my best friend, like my brother,” says Cahoje, by way of explaining those tears. “So then I start to think ‘Oh no, now I have no friend to play with’, and I become very sad.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Angola/2004/Elder
Domingos and Nascimento point to where they were when the mine explosion killed their friend
Cahoje’s tears are for the sake of acting, but for mine victims across Angola, tears are very real. Just a few months earlier, and only a few hundred metres from where Cahoje has just performed, three local boys from the village of Mbila went to dig for local fruits at the nearby river.

Two of the boys, Domingos and Nascimento, tell Cahoje what happened as they dug into the soil: “My friend was digging and suddenly we heard a BOOM,” says Nascimento. “He started bleeding so much, and Domingos was also badly injured. I had some blood, but I could run and so I ran to the village. The people came and carried the boys back to the village.”

Their friend, Nelson, was dead by the time his parents got to him. He was 10, just like Cahoje. Domingos was hospitalised for a month, and has scars across his stomach where shrapnel ripped in one side, and out the other. In the world of landmines, he was lucky.

“The naturally inquisitive nature of children means they play in the most dangerous places,” says UNICEF’s head of Mine Risk Education in Angola, Sharon Ball. “In and around abandoned vehicles, trenches, burnt-out houses, bushland and, as with Nelson and his friends, river beds. In their daily life Angolan children are subject to deadly risks. That’s why educating them about landmines is so critical.”

Angolans have a long tradition of theatre and music, which is why groups such as Palanca Negra thrive in villages and markets across the country. “On one hand, children such as Cahoje are testimony to the fact that Angola’s future is in good hands,” says Ball, “but on the other, the death of Nelson is a stark reminder of the poisonous legacy of landmines.”


 

 

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26 November 2004 – Sarah Crowe reports from Angola on efforts to rid the country of landmines

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26 November 2004 – Sir Roger Moore speaks out about landmines

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