S Sudan women brave danger for kids’ future

Stefanie Glinski –
Margret has decided that South Sudan is not a place to raise children, but she is changing this for future generations.
That’s why 10 years ago, the mother of two joined the country’s 400 to 500 deminers, digging up remnants of past and present wars — bombs, unexploded ordnances and landmines.
She’s one of a growing number of women to take up the risky business, most of them mothers wanting to provide safety for their families.
“It’s my way of contributing and making this country better,” she said. “I sent my children to Uganda, but I want them to come back one day.”
Landmines have a long history in South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation that won independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long and violent liberation struggle.
More than four million mines and explosive devices have been found and destroyed in South Sudan over the last decade, says the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS). While some accidents are recorded, UNMAS believes at least 90 per cent go unreported.
Margret currently works around Kolye village, a 30-minute drive on unpaved bumpy roads from the South Sudanese capital Juba.
The area saw heavy fighting between the Sudanese army and southern rebels during Sudan’s long civil war.
Deadly anti-personnel fragmentation mines were laid by Khartoum’s forces to protect their barracks.
More than a decade later, they are still killing civilians.
“Soldiers placing mines think carefully about how humans behave, where they go and what they do. That is why mines are found alongside roads, in market places or by water points,” said Jan Møller Hansen of Dan Church Aid’s demining project, the organisation that also employs Margret.
While mines are easy to place, they are hard to remove. After an eight-week training course, Margret has dug out hundreds of them throughout her career and — on a good day — she can cover up to 30 square metres.
“We can use the safe land to build roads, hospitals and schools and that’s what excites me the most,” she smiled.
According to UNMAS’s demining chief, Tim Lardner, it will take at least another 10 years to clear up the whole country that is roughly the size of France.
Margret works together with her friend Angaika, a mother of four and deminer since 2006. They start at eight in the morning, with a driver taking the 10-person team out to the field.
“Each day we communicate through high frequency radios and satellite phones to find out if conditions are safe. We don’t want to become victims of violence,” said Margret, who did not give her full name.
Finding explosives is hands-on work and, dripping sweat in their thick uniforms, teams clear the area inch by inch with metal detectors, scissors and garden tools to cut down grass and dig out explosive devices.
“My heart still beats faster when my detector beeps. I know that I could be very close to a mine, but I know my work and am not afraid,” said Angaika. “I think about my children in those moments. My work is for them and their future families. That’s what makes me strong.”
Once the mine is dug up — it can take up to 30 minutes — a controlled explosion is usually carried out on site.
Newly discovered minefields are still registered monthly in South Sudan.
— Thomson Reuters Foundation