Mohammad’s life calling: protecting children from remnants of war in Homs and Hama

“I want everyone to keep in mind that any unknown object they encounter can kill or maim them,”

Lina Alqassab
Boy in a class
UNICEF/ Syria 2019/Abdulmalek Alsibai

04 April 2019

Homs, Syria, 4 April 2019-  As violence escalated in his hometown of Talbisa in eastern rural Homs back in 2013, Mohammad and his family were forced to flee to a nearby village where they spent four years in displacement. As violence subsided in late 2017, like thousands of other families, Mohammad’s family returned to their war-ravaged hometown, unaware of the high risk of explosive hazards.

Last year, as Mohammad and his friend were walking home from school, they found a strange object.

Child with mine awareness leaflet
UNICEF/ Syria 2019/Abdulaziz Aldroubi
Mohamad, 17, leads a mine risk education session at a school in his war-ravaged village of Talbisa in northern rural Homs.

“My friend picked up something round of the ground then realized it was some kind of an explosive. He got scared and threw it in the air, causing it to explode.”

17-year-old Mohammad

Mohammad was injured by shrapnel to his arms and legs, but his friend died before his eyes.

As violence in Syria become more localized and more families start returning to their conflict-ridden villages and towns, more than 10 million people currently live in areas affected by explosive hazards, including over 4.3 million children. Children are especially prone to this risk because they are curious and risk picking up or playing with unexploded remnants of war - especially in agricultural areas or in destroyed buildings. 

Thanks to the Office of U.S Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), Luxembourg, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), UNICEF has reached over 3,500 children and 1,500 caregivers in Homs and Hama since October 2018 with life-saving information on how to identify and protect themselves against various kinds of explosive hazard.

Ahmad has made it his life calling to teach people about the risk of unexploded ordnance, using his personal experience. Supported by UNICEF, he received training on mine risk education and became a volunteer on the programme.

 

“I want everyone to keep in mind that any unknown object they encounter can kill or maim them,”

Mohammad

Having missed one year of learning due to violence and displacement, Mohammad is now in Grade 11. After school, when he’s not giving sessions on mine risk, he helps his family farm their land.

Child with mine awareness leaflet
UNICEF/ Syria 2019/Abdulmalek Alsibai
Abdulmalek during a mine risk awareness session in his school in Jarissa village, southern rural Homs.

“My neighbour accidentally stepped on a landmine and lost both his legs. This has made me more cautious whenever I walk in areas with rubble and I have also warned my younger siblings,”.

16-year-old Abdulmalak
A lady
UNICEF/ Syria 2019/Abdulaziz Aldroubi
Fatima, 52, is a teacher from Talbisa, northern rural Homs. “I always warn my students against approaching unknown objects no matter what,” she says during a mine risk awareness session. Fatima’s neighbor had her child maimed when he picked up an unexploded ordnance. “He lost his fingers, it broke my heart” she adds.