Unsung Hero: Vanja Jokic Ražnjević

by Jennette Townsend and Rachel Canfield [ Mine Action Information Center ]

As a single mother, Vanja Ražnjević felt that she had no other choice than to apply for a demining position with Norwegian People's Aid. "I needed a job," says Ražnjević, "and this job seemed really normal for me because I spent time [in Croatia] during the war and became accustomed to danger."

During the war, Ražnjević lived in Benkovac, a little town close to Zadar. The town was a part of former Krajina, a region in Croatia where Serbs live; therefore, Benkovac was on the front line of the war. As a civilian, she encountered danger every day. "Bombs and grenades were all around," says Ražnjević.

Landmines are still a prevalent problem in Croatia, and Ražnjević's children are learning about them as a result of their mother's job. "I always talk with them about the landmine situation and about my job. They understand what I am doing and they know the dangers of demining."

Image 1
Vanja Ražnjević demining in Croatia. Photo courtesy of Miroslav Horvat Kiki

It has been six years since Ražnjević attended the Croatian Ministry of Interior's national demining training course in Zagreb. She was the only woman in the group of trainees. She graduated from the course as one of the best students and started working in the field alongside veteran male deminers. "In the beginning I was inexperienced," says Ražnjević, "but my more experienced colleagues taught me the demining procedures that I was not familiar with. I can say that I have not received any criticism for my work as a deminer. It is not permissible to make a mistake in this job."

Ražnjević's calm confidence and her ability to coordinate her personal and professional life have won admiration from her colleagues. Silvija Bogdany, Ražnjević's former team leader, says of Ražnjević: "She is under much more pressure. I think that her children are always on her mind. For me, things are rather simple. I don't have as much responsibility. I try not to bring my work home with me, but it is easy for me to do so because nobody is waiting for me at home except for a few spiders that I have and they are good listeners. For Vanja things are different. It is hard to be a mother and a deminer at the same time."

Likewise, Ražnjević expresses respect for her co-workers. "The courage of my colleagues has made an impression on me," says Ražnjević. She recalls one time when a fire started in a mined area: "It was very dangerous, but we did not run. We fought the fire and we won, of course."

In the past six years, Ražnjević has learned a lot about demining and about teamwork. "I can help build the foundation for good relations between us deminers," says Ražnjević. Even with all the knowledge she has already gained, she still wishes to learn more about mine action. In 2007 she will finish her studies in pyrotechnology, which have included subjects such as anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordnance, explosion physics, management and humanitarian demining. "I think that it is important for deminers to be adequately educated and I think that it is important to develop deminers' rights."

Her vision for the future of demining is optimistic: "I believe that we will find a more effective way to remove the problem. I hope that I will still be working in this field when we do," says Ražnjević. "In the future I wish to work as a leader of demining projects all over the world. To do that, I will need practical work experience as an assistant to a person who already is doing this type of work," she says.

Reflecting on her career as a deminer, Ražnjević says her experiences with demining have been good: "I can say that I have found myself in this job. I am clearing landmines with pleasure. I feel happy when I can destroy something that can destroy somebody's life. I am ready to continue demining in the future, but I will never do the opposite—I mean I don't want to lay mines. There is no politician, no idea and no money that can pressure me to do that!" Bullet

Biography

HeadshotJennette Townsend worked as an Editorial Assistant for the Mine Action Information Center and Journal of Mine Action while pursing a master's degree in technical communication at James Madison University.

HeadshotRachel Canfield is from Richmond, Virginia, and has worked as an Editorial Assistant and Student Researcher for the Journal of Mine Action since January 2006. She enjoys sewing and walking her pet beagle, Belle.

Endnotes

  1. Krajina was an independent and separate entity from Croatia until 1945 when it was assigned to be part of Croatia. http://www.srpska-mreza.com/library/facts/srbi_rsk.html. Accessed 25 July 2007.
  2. Information for this article was received via correspondence with the author. 25 March 2007.

Contact Information

Jennette Townsend
Editorial Assistant
Journal of Mine Action
Mine Action Information Center
E-mail: maic@jmu.edu

Rachel Canfield
Editorial Assistant/Student Researcher
Journal of Mine Action
Mine Action Information Center
E-mail: maic@jmu.edu

Vanja Ražnjević
NPA Mine Action ProgramCroatia
Plemena Lapčana bb
23420 Benkovac / Croatia
Tel: +385 23 682200
Fax: +385 23 682201
E-mail: vanjajokic@hotmail.com

Silvija Bogdany
Technical Advisor/Supervisor
DCA Mine Action ProgramSudan
Amarat Street 9, Block 10
Khartoum / Sudan
Tel: +88 2162 1252100
Email: sbogdany@gmail.com