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‘We Stay on the Right Path’: Campaign to raise landmine awareness

By James Elder

Hot on the heels of the first Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World, which will take place in Nairobi from 29 November to 3 December 2004, UNICEF is launching a campaign to help protect Angolans from the six million mines scattered across their country.

LUANDA, Angola, 22 October 2004 – Perched on her mother’s lap in the crowded minibus, four-year-old Celna bounced along a dirt road in central Angola. Travelling to meet her grandparents, Celna was excited. The coming of peace in Angola had opened many roads that had previously been closed. This would be the first time for Celna to meet her grandmother. Her father, Arnaldo Camolocongue, waited anxiously at home for news of the visit.

© UNICEF Angola/2004/Bie
Wreckage of the minibus that was carrying Celna and her mother. The minibus set off an anti-tank mine when the driver pulled onto the shoulder of the road in order to overtake another car.
As the minibus bumped its way through the bush, it found itself behind a slow moving car. The driver pulled onto the shoulder of the road in order to overtake. With as many as six million landmines littered across the country, to leave the road in Angola is to leave safe ground.

A massive explosion ripped through the bus, killing Celna’s mother instantly.

The explosion threw Celna from the minibus, leaving her with head injuries and in shock. It took two hours for medical help to arrive. Celna spent much of this time cuddling her mother’s corpse.

It is a scene repeated with terrifying regularity across Angola. Comforted by the end of war in 2002, drivers of trucks, taxis and buses often go off the road to overtake, avoid a broken-down vehicle, or go around a pothole. Hidden on the shoulders of roads, in fields, and on walking paths, landmines are testimony to the devastating aftermath of war.

© UNICEF Angola/2004/Elder
Arnaldo Camolocongue holds a picture of his wife Cristina, who was killed when the minibus in which she was riding set off an anti-tank mine.
In 2003, there was a landmine incident every second day in Angola. In 2004, there has been one incident every four days. Many, like the one which robbed Celna of her mother and Arnaldo of his wife, are due to drivers leaving the safety of the road.

This week, the Government of Angola and UNICEF launched a national campaign aimed at keeping drivers on the right road. The campaign, known as ‘We Stay on the Right Path’, will use television, radio and person-to-person communication to inform drivers of the dangers of leaving the road. It will also urge passengers to speak out if a driver decides to make his own path.

It is a campaign Arnaldo has more than a vested interest in. “I lost a wife and Celna lost a mother,” says 33-year-old Arnaldo. “Drivers must know of the dangers they face when they leave cities, and passengers must be persuaded to tell their drivers to stay on the right path.”

Targeting Angola’s seven most mine-affected provinces, the campaign will be Angola’s biggest ever. It comes during a year when UNICEF’s activities have been enormously boosted by a $2.5 million donation from the Italian Government. This was the largest-ever single donation to a UNICEF Mine Risk Education programme.

In all, 30,000 drivers will be reached during the first five intensive days of the campaign. It will then continue for six months to ensure that Angola’s notoriously dangerous rainy season is flooded with messages to deter drivers from taking risks. Some 20,000 teachers will be trained to impart lifesaving information about landmines to their students.

“Landmines pay no respect to peace, and although Angolans are eagerly turning to the business of nation building, they continue to feel the forces of war. This campaign will save lives,” said UNICEF Representative Mario Ferrari.

As for Arnaldo, he is working for a UNICEF-supported organization and has been busy recording landmine-awareness music in local languages that will be distributed on cassette tapes to drivers. It’s the perfect tribute to his wife: “In this way, I am happy to be a part of this vital campaign, because I think it will help avoid many more deaths.”



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