Rural Damascus – Sadly, years into the conflict, the danger of mines for the children and people is still out there. By working on the ground and talking to many children and families, I’ve concluded it is essential to provide information on the risks of explosive remnants and ordnance to save children’s lives.
Nine months ago, I took part in a workshop on how to conduct explosive ordnance awareness sessions for children and caregivers. Soon after the training was done, I joined a UNICEF-supported team and started providing daily explosive ordnance risk education sessions at a UNICEF-supported centre in the once conflict-ravaged Hammorieh town, Rural Damascus.
“I am risking the lives of my children who play near the vase all the time.”
Six months ago, two young men were killed by unexploded ordnance in a forest in Saqba neighbouring town while collecting wood. I frequently heard similar stories from people attending my sessions. In the beginning, I did not realize how important the subject of mine awareness was.
“I am risking the lives of my children who play near the vase all the time,” a woman told me after one of my sessions. She had been using an exploded missile as a vase to decorate her house, unknowing that it could still explode even though it had in the past. A few days later, she came back to tell me that she contacted the concerned authorities, who came and removed it.
Misconceptions on the risks of unexploded ordnance are also widespread among children. I remember when a group of boys told me about their friend, who collected scrap metal pieces from open fields to sell them and support his family. His friends brought him to the centre for an awareness-raising session. I watched how his facial expressions changed when I explained the dangers of explosive ordnance. I was very happy when I heard that he stopped collecting scrap metal, and I was proud of him. He attended more than six sessions and was always the first to participate and share information he learnt by heart with his friends.
Another group of boys told me that whenever they found a strange object they suspected to be ordnance, they would ask for the help of a friend. Their friend took upon himself to help people to get rid of explosive ordnance by throwing it in the river. I invited the boy to attend a session and explained to him how dangerous it can be to hold the ordnance and how throwing it into the river would not necessarily make it ineffective. All he wanted was to help save people’s lives, while he did not know he was risking his own.
The latest interaction that touched my heart happened a little while ago. “When we came back home after respite in violence, one of the walls in our house was penetrated by shells. My father took them out and got rid of them. When he comes back home tonight, I will tell him that he shouldn’t have done that without specialized help. I love my father and I don’t want him to risk his life again,” said a boy during an awareness session I gave.
These types of stories warm my heart and confirm to me how important it is to raise awareness. I believe words can save lives.
I also encourage children and parents who attend my sessions to share the information they receive with other family members, neighbours, and friends.
In 2022, UNICEF provided more than 250,000 children and caregivers with lifesaving explosive ordnance risk education. Contributions from the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA/USAID), German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through the KFW Development Bank, Governments of Australia and Italy, Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation, United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund, and the Republic of Korea made this possible.