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Educating children about unexploded ordnance in post-conflict Georgia

© UNICEF/2009/Degan
Nino Samkharadze, age seven, reads mine risk education material at the Kirbali Village School near Gori.

By Guy Degan

KIRBALI, Georgia, 17 June 2009 – Life is gradually returning to normal for most children at the Kirbali Village School near Gori following last year's conflict which resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties.

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However, for 15-year-old student Soso Khirkheli, the war has left a terrible legacy. Soso's left hand was blown off while he was handling a grenade-like explosive that he found in the gutter near his school.

Soso had even brought the explosive into his classroom. It felt warm, so he went outside to throw it away. It detonated just as he removed it from his pocket.
“I did not know what it was. If I knew, I would not have picked it up. I picked it up, like other boys. I did not know what it was,” said Soso.

Soso is not the only victim. Several children have lost limbs in the Shida Kartli district near Gori.
Understanding the risks

UNICEF is working closely with the Halo Trust and the Georgian Ministry of Education to ensure that children understand the dangers of unexploded ordinance – that they can recognize warning signs and know what to do if they see an object that looks dangerous.

UNICEF's Mine Risk Education programme aims to teach nearly 50, 000 young people in the Gori region about the risks of war-affected areas. Special learning materials are now available in schools and for children to take home to their families.

"With minimum intervention with teachers, by giving them the basic skills to train children, and through other methods such as animation and child-friendly activities, we can make sure every child knows about the dangers," said UNICEF Georgia Deputy Country Representative Benjamin Perks.

Danger to local people

In an orchard near the village of Brotsleti, teams from the Halo Trust are doing the slow and careful work of clearing unexploded ordinance such as cluster munitions which pose a deadly risk.

© UNICEF/2009/Degan
Soso Khirkheli lost his hand when he handled an explosive left over from last year’s conflict.

Clearing the explosive remnants of conflict in the region is likely to take time.

Halo Trust Clearance Expert Nick Smart, says it's important that children are taught the dangers of unexploded ordinance such as cluster bombs.

"They're not to be touched and they're not play things. Obviously, here you can see we've got farmers fields – people are going to be working – and if they're ignorant of the items then, obviously, that's going to be dangerous to them," he said.

Right to care and protection

All children affected by conflict have the right to protection and care.

Before losing his hand, Soso enjoyed sports and was a boxer. He hopes that somehow he may be able to continue boxing in future. For now, he's thankful that he survived the accident with the grenade and did not hurt any of his classmates.

“Everybody saw what happened to me. I wish noone to be in my place. I tell my friends not to touch things and to remember what happened to me.”

UNICEF will continue working with the Georgian Ministry of Education to ensure that children in conflict-affected areas do not become victims of landmines and explosive remnants.




UNICEF correspondent Guy Degan reports on unexploded ordinance – a harmful legacies of last year’s conflict in Georgia.
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