On 21st March 2011, 13-year-old Mohamed was playing football with his friends when he noticed something glinting in the sun. Curious, he picked up the strange object and started to play with it, throwing it against a wall. It exploded violently, firing out shards of metal that struck the child’s face and hand, cutting off several fingers.
Unknowingly, Mohamed had picked up a sub-munition left behind after the fighting last year in his home-town of Zlitan, a coastal town in Libya about 30 miles from Misrata.
Six months after the fall of the Gaddafi regime, explosive remnants of war continue to injure and kill civilians in Libya. Children and adolescents are bearing the brunt of these accidents due to a lack of awareness of the dangers that these weapons pose. In the region, 80% of recorded casualties are under 23 years old.
Handicap International is committed to preventing such accidents by clearing areas contaminated by weapons and educating local communities about the risks. Since launching our activities in Libya in March 2011, our teams have made around 50,000 people aware of the risks. Since October 2011, we have also destroyed more than 3,500 explosive remnants of war.
Initially, our education activities targeted people who had been displaced by the fighting. These groups were particularly at risk as many were returning home to areas which had been heavily shelled and mined, unaware of the hidden danger.
To get the message out, Handicap International partnered with the Scouts, one of the only non-governmental associations permitted under the Gaddafi regime. We trained teams of Scouts who then ran education sessions with children in camps and communities, distributed leaflets, and put up posters to raise awareness.
As Ali, 21, a Scout trained by Handicap International, told us, “People are running huge risks because they don’t realise how dangerous these weapons can be. People pick up unexploded ordnance and keep them as battlefield souvenirs, children play with them, and other people organise displays of weapons in the street or in schools. Some people even try to clear their land with rakes or by hand.”
Our risk education sessions are designed to get the message across at a local level. Our teams give interactive workshops in mosques, schools and businesses. We try to make our schools workshops as fun and interactive as possible so that children are more likely to take our advice on board. The key message is: never touch explosive remnants of war!
In conducting sessions with different age groups, our teams noticed that children under the age of 12 were particularly engaged and interested in learning about the risks they faced and how to avoid accidents. They enjoyed playing games such as ‘spot the danger’, where teams of children take part in a race to sort a set of flashcards depicting various types of weapon and other objects. These groups were also able to quickly absorb information, such as through leaflets that show images of landmines and use cartoons to explain how to behave in various risky situations.
Once they understood the importance of not touching remnants of war or any strange objects, our teams found that many children were really excited by their new knowledge and keen to share what they had learnt. The children were proactive about passing information on, both amongst their friends and peer groups, as well as taking leaflets home to teach siblings and adult family members, who were also unaware of the dangers they faced.
All this just goes to show that children are not always victims of war. Even in the most difficult circumstances, they can make a real difference in their communities, if empowered with the right information and support. This is a message we have also been spreading to school students in the UK, as a powerful reminder of the impact we all can have by taking action on issues that concern us, even when they are in other parts of the world. Landmines and cluster bombs continue to threaten people in around 80 countries, and accidents like Mohamed’s will keep happening unless we keep up the pressure to get rid of them for good.
Communication Officer, Handicap International UK
For more information about our work, please visit us online.
Visit Flickr for images of our risk education work around the world.A final note from Children for Health Some years ago our director, Clare Hanbury developed a Mine Risk Education Booklet for Child to Child. This booklet provides ideas on helping children be alert to the dangers in mined areas, how to avoid these dangers and how to encourage others to do the same. It is aimed at those planning mine risk education projects for children and for those involved in mine awareness programmes as teachers or trainers. Download the 86 page booklet for free.