From One Drama to Another
Mine Risk Education
On a hot, dusty day on the porch of the Old Hospital in Kulavady, a group of children are rehearsing a musical drama for International Children’s Day. They sing, drum and dance an important message for children and adults at the Children’s Club:
“The life of a child is very challenging...la, la, la, la...especially in this area...la, la, la, la,” the children sing.
Under the broad shade of an old mango tree a group of parents with babies, children and young people are trying to concentrate on the presentation given by two burly soldiers in blue overalls from the Humanitarian Demining Unit of the Sri Lankan Army.
They show pictures of objects that could be quite interesting toys but are, in fact, various types of deadly landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). They tell the children about a UXO found only yesterday in the nearby area of Vavunatheevu.
Sitting in the audience today is 15-year-old Suja and her cousin, 18-year-old Vijay, who were injured in a mine accident precisely because they thought they had found an interesting looking object.
It was 2004, when Suja, a 10-year-old in Grade 5, was on her way to school with her sister and Vijay when she stumbled upon the strange looking object. On the way home after school they decided to investigate and throw stones at it. It blasted, blinding Suja in the right eye while Vijay’s right hand was blown off.
Vijay sits self-consciously at the back of the assembled gathering with a baseball cap covering the stump where his hand used to be. He dropped out of school in 2006. Suja, walks to the front of the group and takes over delivering the Mine Risk Education (MRE) session from the Sri Lankan Army.
The babies momentarily stop crying and the children pay attention when another child, Suja, addresses them as one with intimate knowledge of danger, tragedy and how to avoid it.
“If you see one of the common markers for a dangerous area, stay away. If you find an unknown object, stay away and tell your teachers or the authorities immediately,” she says accompanied by a Sarvodaya NGO support worker.
She and Vijay take turns to present the MRE messages and join forces when the groups are large. Although many areas have been cleared and issued with a Land Release Certificate, communities continue to report on mine and UXO findings in areas near their villages.
Since 2009, UNICEF supported MRE activities reached 951,898 people in the north and east of Sri Lanka and there were 3,096 community reports of mines/UXO (Status 31 August 2011). With the end of the armed conflict in May 2009 and the return of people mostly displaced from the Northern Province, MRE focuses on the Vanni and on Jaffna. However, in the Eastern Province continuous MRE is needed and is being provided as well.
In 2009, 103 disabled people were given artificial limbs, wheelchairs and crutches from UNICEF assisted NGO, Handicap International. Around 2,100 people with disabilities, including 967 women and children, benefitted from physical rehabilitation services in 2010.
The MRE session ends with a play about a stubborn returnee insisting on farming his land despite warnings from his wife, best friend and local village leader. He gets injured by a mine as he tries ploughing his land. Despite the subject matter, the play is a comedy that has the audience howling.
Suja and Vijay join in with the laughter as they, for now, forget the effect their personal mine drama will have on the rest of their lives.
Names have been changed to protect the identity of the children.