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At a glance: Lebanon

When learning saves lives: UNICEF supports mine-risk education in south Lebanon

© UNICEF video
A class in session to educate children about the dangers of unexploded munitions in southern Lebanon.

By Serene Aassir

Six months after the 14 August 2006 agreement that ended the war in Lebanon, here is the first in a series of reports on its aftermath.

HOUMINE AL-TAHTA, Lebanon, 12 February 2007 – Though he spoke shyly, Hassan, 9, knew very well what unexploded cluster munitions look like.

“Cluster bombs, they come in many shapes and sizes,” said Hassan. “Sometimes, they’re the size of tennis balls, and they can be black or grey. Some of them also come with a white ribbon attached,” he added, standing before dozens of children as part of a UNICEF-supported education campaign on unexploded ordnance.

Almost six months after the ceasefire that ended the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, UNICEF warns that unexploded ordnance – including cluster bombs – remains one of the key threats affecting Lebanese children and their families.

The UN Mine Action Coordination Centre for South Lebanon estimates that there are approximately 1 million unexploded munitions left in the area, and it will take many more months – perhaps a year – to clear all of them. As of end of January, more than 200 people had been injured or killed by cluster bomb explosions since the ceasefire, including 70 children and youths under 18 years of age, 7 of whom died.

© UNICEF video
Posters and flyers like this help spread mine safety awareness among Lebanese children.

Children help spread the message

Working with Lebanon’s National Demining Office and other partners, UNICEF has made educating and protecting children from unexploded munitions a top priority. Through awareness campaigns, they learn how to identify bombs and landmines, and what to do if they see one. Posters, banners, and TV and radio spots all help to spread the message among children: Don’t approach, don’t touch and report to the authorities.

“Children are at the heart of the family, and whatever they learn here will be reported home,” said principal Nawal Shraim at the Houmine al-Tahta government school, which Hassan attends. “Whatever education they receive on cluster bombs will be transferred into the community.”

The campaign uses a child-friendly approach, incorporating crucial information into games, plays, discussions and interactions. In one such activity, called ‘Game of the Goose’, children throw a large cardboard die, then walk a certain number of paces down a paper path that is illustrated with various scenarios.

“You can land on a box with a cluster bomb drawn on it, for example, and if that happens then you have to go back to square one,” said Fatma, 12. “Otherwise, you can land on a box where you imagine you’ve seen a cluster bomb, and if you do the right thing and tell an adult about it then you get ahead.”

© UNICEF video
Games are designed to help children learn crucial messages on unexploded ordnance.

Mine-risk educator Ali Baalbeki at the non-governmental organization InterSOS observed: “When children are allowed to express and enjoy themselves, they don’t forget what they have learned. If they are sat down and made to listen to an instructor without having the chance to take part, they lose concentration and interest.”

Reinforcing safe behaviour

Over the past six months, various educational programmes have been conducted intensively in the areas most affected by unexploded ordnance, including south Lebanon, the Beqaa Valley and the southern suburbs of Beirut. UNICEF has also supported the training of more than 200 trainers in mine-risk education – who in turn are leading sessions in 150 villages targeting parents, agriculture workers, farmers, children and teachers.

“Very often, the kids know even more about cluster bombs and the risk they pose than the adults do,” said Lina, 15. “One boy in my area warned his dad to stay away from a cluster bomb when he saw he wasn’t scared.”

UNICEF is also stepping forward to meet the increasing needs of children, youths and parents who have been injured by landmine or cluster bomb explosions. One key initiative is supporting occupational therapy programmes in rehabilitation centres in southern Lebanon.

“Until the physical threat can be removed,” concluded UNICEF Representative in Lebanon Roberto Laurenti, “the best way to protect children is through child-friendly activities that will reinforce safe behaviour.”




9 February 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on UNICEF-supported mine safety education for children in southern Lebanon.
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