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Bakhit’s story: Working to protect children from unexploded mines in Chad

© UNICEF Chad/2009/Walther
Landmine explosion victim Bakhit with his cousin in eastern Chad, 14 months after the accident that injured him severely.

On 4 April, the third annual International Day for Mine Awareness was observed worldwide. Here is a story about the dangers posed by unexploded mines in Chad.

N’DJAMENA, Chad, 6 April 2009 – All it took was a simple moment of curiosity to tragically change a young Chadian boy’s life forever. The incident occurred in January 2008, when Bakhit, 7, was playing with his friends and happened upon an unexploded landmine.

Intrigued, he decided to pick it up. In the next instant, the mine detonated.

The explosion injured Bakhit’s arms, chest and face. Immediately after the accident, his left arm was amputated. When his health status continued to deteriorate, he was evacuated to the capital, where doctors had to amputate his remaining arm. It would be two months before he was able to return to his grandmother’s home in Koubigou, eastern Chad.

A loss of balance

Eleven months after the accident, a UNICEF team visited Bakhit in Koubigou. His initial wounds had healed, but he was wearing a fresh bandage. “He played soccer and fell down,” explained his grandmother.

The loss of his arms had left Bakhit without balance – physically and psychologically. Asked about his wish for the future, his answer was both straightforward and heartbreaking: “I want enough to eat and my arms back.”

The danger of unexploded ordnance is just one consequence of the conflict that has characterized life in Chad since the country gained independence in 1960.

UNICEF takes action

In response to that danger, UNICEF has partnered with the government in launching mine-risk education efforts across the country to explain – step-by-step – to children, parents and local stakeholders what has to be done when one finds an unexploded mine.

“They told us at school to never touch something when you don’t know what it is,” said Bakhit’s brother, Mohamed.

UNICEF is also training civil society partners and local authorities to ensure a common understanding of the danger posed by unexploded ordnance. In addition, guidelines have been disseminated to ensure that whenever a mine is found, it is marked and its location is communicated to the institutions in charge of disposal.

Thanks to the combined efforts of UNICEF and its partners, the number of injuries and deaths caused by unexploded ordnance in Chad is decreasing – from 51 killed and 137 wounded in 2007 to 18 killed and 86 wounded in 2008. But there is much work left to be done, as the continuing conflict only adds to the proliferation of mines.

Some cause for optimism

In Bakhit’s case, UNICEF and its partners are joining forces to provide him with long-term care. His injuries are being regularly monitored, and he will receive two hand-prostheses when he turns 12. Although his life will never be the same as it was before the accident, his future is looking brighter.

When UNICEF staff visited Bakhit recently, they found him smiling and playing with his friends. When they asked him about his plans for the future, his answer, this time, was far more optimistic.

“I want to become a businessman,” he said.



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