|A child reading UNICEF-produced materials on mine risk in School #6 in Gori, which was affected by the August 2008 conflict in and around South Ossetia, Georgia.|
By Pamela Renner
On 4 April, the third annual International Day for Mine Awareness is being observed worldwide. Here is a story about mine-awareness efforts in Georgia.
GORI, Georgia, 3 April 2009 – The risks of war don’t end when the last tanks and soldiers have vanished. For people in villages and cities affected by bombings, post-war danger can lurk in the most ordinary places. Remnants of explosives are scattered unseen in Georgian fields and along roads where children play.
For nearly 50,000 schoolchildren in Gori, Kareli, Kaspi and Khashuri – areas that saw heavy shelling during the August 2008 conflict in and around South Ossetia, Georgia – the unexploded ordnance from last summer’s bombings are the conflict’s longest-lasting peril.
These materials remain dangerous for 50 years or more – sometimes up to a century. They are a particular risk for young people, whose curiosity can get the better of their good sense.
Recently, UNICEF joined with HALO Trust and the Georgian Ministry of Education and Science to create an effective risk-awareness programme in 180 schools in conflict-affected districts. The aim is simple: to teach 46,000 young people to avoid handling dangerous remnants of war.
“Our main aim is: ‘Do not touch,’” says HALO Trust project coordinator Nicki Whitley. The international organization specializes in defusing landmines and minimizing long-term risk from unexploded bombs.
HALO trainers have visited each school in the high-risk areas, holding information sessions for teachers. Educational materials were distributed in schools to increase awareness: posters, leaflets, memory and sequence cards, colouring books for younger children, and an instructional workbook.
According to HALO specialists, only three post-war accidents have come to light since the Russian troop withdrawal: two in Gori and one in Kirbali, a village near South Ossetia.
|© UNICEF Georgia/2009/ Nikolaishvili|
|Within the framework of the UNICEF-supported mine-risk education programme, a local drama club in the conflict-affected city of Gori produced a thematic theatre performance for children.|
‘His soul is not broken’
Eter Karkozashvili is director of the Kirbali village school. One of her students, Soso Kharkeli, 15, was gravely wounded by an explosive remnant, which severed his forearm at the elbow.
“We are amazed by his strength,” recalls Ms. Karkozashvili. “He’s stronger than us, the adults. His soul is not broken. He did not even cry or mourn when we were bringing him to Tbilisi for emergency care.”
The school director said Soso’s accident was “an unfortunate lesson.” Educators hope there will be no further harm to civilians.
“We’ve launched extensive safety and awareness programmes, distributing brochures, holding lectures on safety and hanging signs around the school – and in adjacent areas where we think it’s dangerous for our kids to go,” notes Ms. Karkozashvili.
Stories fantastic and true
Georgian children have taken a leading role in peer awareness, creating posters, drawings, poems and stories about the risk of unexploded remnants of war.
Recently, a drama club in Gori produced a musical with a cast of lively pre-teens. It was a post-war fairytale in which a couple of yokels from the past are accidentally transported to the 21st century. In the course of their wanderings, they learn about the dangers of mines and explosive remnants.
Bewildered by the hazards of the present day, they decide to escape back to the past. The climactic number – a disco ensemble with the whole cast – highlights the contrast between the innocence of the performers, and the darkness of their subject matter.
Marika Baliashvili won first prize in a poetry contest about the dangers of landmines. In the 18-year-old’s poem, a boy and a girl spot something unknown, a greenish metallic object on their path. Though her friend warns her to “stay away,” the girl is compelled to touch it. She is killed by the unexploded remnant.
Tamta Ivanishvili contributed translations and reporting to this story.
Electronic Mine Information Network
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