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Angolan landmine survivors build a school and look to the future

© UNICEF Angola/2006/Stark-Merklein
In Andulo, Angola, villagers – most of them landmine survivors – stand in front of the school they built with help from UNICEF.

By Brigitte Stark-Merklein

ANDULO, Bié Province, Angola, 20 November 2006 – The community-built school in Andulo’s Bairro Agostinho Neto is a simple adobe structure but it has made its builders proud. Many of the villagers are landmine survivors for whom construction work is no easy task.

“The most difficult part was lifting the adobe bricks to put up the walls,” said David Catchama, who lost his left leg when he stepped on an anti-personnel mine during the country’s 27-year civil war. “It was difficult to keep balance when we were reaching over our heads,” he added.

For Mr. Catchama and 43 families of war victims, their injuries were no excuse to let the 266 school-age children in this resettlement of returned refugees go without an education.

At an hour’s walk, the closest school was too far away, so the community took matters into their own hands. The women and children carried water from the river to make the bricks while the men built the walls. UNICEF is supporting the project with construction and basic school materials.

Defying the past, building the future

For Delfino Norton, who lost both legs, the building is a labour of love “giving the younger generation hope for better days.”

The school construction exemplifies the mood in much of post-conflict Angola, where communities are picking up the pieces of their lives and setting the foundation of a better future for their children – defying injuries and scars left by the fighting.

© UNICEF Angola/2006/Stark-Merklein
Delfino Norton with his two sons on the path outside the new school building in Andulo, Angola. He says the school is a labour of love that gives the children hope for the future.

There are reportedly millions of landmines still hidden in Angola’s unmarked minefields. Their presence affects more than 2.2 million people, 60 per cent of them children, on a daily basis. Some 80,000 Angolans are believed to have been physically and psychologically maimed by landmines. Children are at particular risk of injury and death because they may be intrigued by the sometimes colourful and curious designs of the mines and try to pick them up for play.

In Bairro Agostinho Neto, five children have been maimed by mines while playing in the fields surrounding the village. To help prevent further injuries, UNICEF is helping to educate the community, especially children, about the risks of landmines and how to act safely when they find one.

‘Schools for Africa’

“It’s easier to reach children when they are in class,” says UNICEF Angola Planning Officer Jonathan Cauldwell. “Schools often provide the best opportunity to disseminate information about mine risks or other issues that affect the children’s survival.”

The roof of the school is being provided by UNICEF with funds from the Schools for Africa Initiative, a partnership of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Hamburg Society for the Promotion of Democracy and International Law, and UNICEF.

In Angola, the initiative’s objective is to rehabilitate and construct 1,500 schools. Since the launch of the campaign in 2004, some 220 schools have been finalized and over 20,000 newly hired primary school teachers have been trained.

“The zeal of these villagers in the face of so many obstacles is humbling,” says Mr. Cauldwell. “And they clearly understood that giving their children an education is the best ticket for a better future.”



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