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Football match scores against landmines on Landmine Awareness Day in Sudan

© UNICEF Sudan/2007/Kodsi
Young residents of the Al Salam camp for internally displaced persons in Khartoum, Sudan kick off a soccer match as part of efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of landmines.

By Nagui Kodsi and Edward Carwardine

KHARTOUM, Sudan, 4 April 2007  Under a scorching sun, and amidst the dust of a makeshift soccer pitch, the crowd of some 800 spectators in Al Salam camp for internally displaced persons roars as the third goal, an equalizer, hits the back of the net.

For the estimated 40,000 young people living in this camp in North Sudan who were displaced during the 21-year long civil war in Sudan, an opportunity for entertainment like this is something to be cherished. But behind the friendly competition lies a serious message about landmines: “Keep away, don’t touch, report.”

The match, organized in March by the Special Information Campaign on Mine Awareness, is part of a broader communication programme supported by UNICEF.

Raising awareness about landmines is one of the main goals of International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, which the UN General Assembly has declared on April 4.

A life-saving message

The UN classifies Sudan as one of the ten countries in the world most affected by landmines. Two years after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that brought the civil war between north and south to an end, landmines and UXO remain a threat.

As the UN aims to assist an estimated 630,000 Southern Sudanese – including many of the the young people at Al Salam camp – to return home this year alone, the need for effective mine risk education is clear.

© UNICEF Sudan/2007/Kodsi
Children from the Al Salam camp for internally displaced persons in Khartoum, Sudan take time out from watching a soccer match to read information leaflets warning of the dangers of landmines.

UNICEF’s life-saving message is repeated throughout the day at Al Salam, and the messages appear to be resonating with the young audience.

“It was impressive to see how every child was keen on learning the messages, reading the brochures, posters and listening to the discussions,” says Sharif Baaser, UNICEF’s Child Protection officer leading the mine risk education programme in North Sudan.

“The only way to reduce the danger from landmines is through teaching children and the community on the best ways to recognize and respond to that danger. And that starts with helping children know what landmines look like, the importance of avoiding them and the need to report anything they may find to adults,” Basser adds.

‘Nothing is worse than a landmine’

Events such as the match at Al Salam camp enable messages to be disseminated in an entertaining way. And everywhere one looks, those messages are prominent, from leaflets being circulated amongst the crowd to the shirts worn by the two soccer teams. “Stay away from unknown objects,” they read. “Watch out for markings, signs or clues that indicate mines and UXO” and “When traveling make sure that you always stay on commonly used roads,”

“Nothing is worse than a landmine, hidden to kill at any time, at times of peace as well as war,” says Howayda, a volunteer from a local NGO, Jasmar. “Unfortunately children are the most affected by landmines out of curiosity and anxiousness to play, run and explore life.”

Hopefully, the messages being disseminated will ensure that such curiosity can continue without risk to life or limb, and that the young Sudanese preparing to return home will be able to look forward to a safe transition to their new life.

But first, there is something else to celebrate. The camp residents’ team has just knocked in the deciding penalty and is preparing to receive a champion’s cup from UNICEF. Another success, to match that of the mine awareness day.



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