AIMCA-OAS: Enhancing Aid to Landmine Survivors

by J. Nicole Vera [ Organization of American States ]

Since 1997, the Organization of American States’ Comprehensive Action against Anti-personnel Mines (Acción Integral contra Minas Antipersonal or AICMA) has been increasing aid to landmine survivors and their families. Through vocational training, physical and psychological rehabilitation, job placement, social reintegration and emergency treatment, AICMA-OAS has provided hundreds of landmine survivors with the help they need to once again become active members in their communities.

The Organization of American States’ program for mine action, Acción Integral contra Minas Antipersonal, enables requesting member states to support the victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance and their families. AICMA’s goal is to support survivors’ recovery from both the physical and psychological traumas of their injuries and their reintegration as productive and contributing members of their communities.

Landmines in the Americas: Nicaragua and Colombia

The armed conflict experienced in the 1980s1 left Nicaragua contaminated with mines, many of which are located near populated areas or along the border with Honduras. Most accidents occur in isolated areas where medical treatment is unavailable, and many survivors cannot afford appropriate care. There are 1,079 landmine survivors in Nicaragua, many of whom are male heads of family aged 20 to 40 years.2

Emilio José Goméz Florian, born in the town of Mozonte, Nicaragua, lost his leg due to a landmine while planting corn on his farm.
All photos courtesy of the author

Due to the internal conflict originating over 40 years ago, Colombia is South America’s most affected country with landmine accidents. Illegally armed groups continue to use anti-personnel mines, which have been found on public roads, around the perimeters of their military camps, near water sources and even around schools.3 The continued use of these weapons has left 31 out of Colombia’s 32 departments4 mine-affected, resulting in an average of three landmine casualties per day.5 Of these victims, 35 percent are civilians; one-third of these are children. The numbers are staggering, especially when considering there have been 6,674 landmine survivors as of January 2008 since 1990.2

Victim Assistance in Nicaragua and Colombia

In 1997, the AICMA in Nicaragua initiated a victim-assistance component at the behest of the Nicaraguan government. Aimed at providing physical and psychological rehabilitation, as well as vocational training and social reintegration, the victim-assistance program focuses on identifying landmine survivors and providing them with transportation from their communities to rehabilitation centers and lodging, meals, prostheses, therapy and medications. AICMA collaborates with the Centro Nacional de Prótesis and Ortesis, as well as with the Nicaraguan National Technological Institute, the Instituto Nacional deTecnológia, which provides training.

The accomplishments and lessons learned from the victim-assistance program in Nicaragua have shaped victim assistance in Colombia. The strategy is similar: Ensure the victim’s emergency treatment, physical and psychological rehabilitation, vocational training, and finally job placement and social reintegration. Vocational training is coordinated with the Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje, the National Training Service. The final phase includes awarding victims micro-enterprise seed grants for small businesses.

AICMA regional offices maintain databases on the progress of each victim as well as facilitates enrollment in training courses and applications for grants and scholarships. The first step in the vocational training and micro-enterprise grant process is the diagnostic phase during which victims’ skills and interests are matched with the appropriate training course. The creativity involved in this preliminary process, for both the victims and AICMA, is crucial to ensuring success. Training courses are offered over a six-to-nine month period, both in Nicaragua and Colombia, in trades such as auto mechanics, computer skills, carpentry, shoe making, tailoring and cosmetology. Both victim-assistance programs provide accounting and financial advice as well as follow-up rehabilitation support. AICMA permanently monitors the training process, as well as the execution of micro-enterprises, for which consultative visits by INATEC are made.

The process of aiding each victim requires special consideration, creativity and flexibility—factors outside the individual’s control, such as funding, national geography, national economy, as well as variables within the person such as his or her type of injury, previous training, number of dependents and familial support, make each victim’s case unique.

Emilio José Goméz Florian, a landmine survivor in Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua, has benefited from the victim-assistance program. In November 2005 he received a US$1,158 grant to open a pottery studio, for which he had received training. The grant helped him afford such supplies as a pottery wheel, kiln, clay and tables. Goméz is in charge of designing and crafting the pottery, while his brother paints and helps run the business. The money generated from Goméz’s business has allowed him to send his two children to school. Goméz employs seven members of his community to distribute his pottery, which has made a positive impact on the productivity of Mozonte, the town in which he lives.

éGoméz Florian received a micro-enterprise grant through the OAS to open a pottery studio.

Since 1997, AICMA has provided physical and psychological rehabilitation to 884 Nicaraguan landmine survivors and vocational training to 200.6 In Colombia, AICMA has supported financially 27 landmine survivors with transportation, meals, and physical and psychological rehabilitative services through the Centro Integral de Rehabilitación de Colombia since 2006. Both the Nicaraguan and Colombian governments have supported the AICMA victim-assistance efforts.

Currently in Colombia, three landmine survivors are in the admission process to the vocational training program, 12 survivors are in vocational training and 15 have recently graduated. The recent graduates are supported with job placements or micro-enterprise grants.

Challenges and Responses


Javier Gutiérrez Salazar is a Colombian landmine victim who has received vocational training through the OAS’s partner, SENA.

Some individual cases require more flexibility and creativity than others. In the case of Javier Gutiérrez Salazar, for instance, providing aid has been difficult due to the severity of his injuries. On 24 February 2006, in Suan Juan de Arama, Colombia, Gutiérrez was grazing his livestock when one of his cows stepped on an anti-personnel landmine. The intensity of the explosion caused Gutiérrez to lose his genitals along with two vocal chords. The devastating effects of the accident have changed his life forever. Although Gutiérrez received immediate emergency care and went on to participate in vocational training courses through SENA, the costs of reconstructive surgery exceeded the program’s capabilities.

Gutiérrez’s case has particularly been an exercise in creativity and patience. He has returned to self-sufficiency and currently works for a hotel in Bogota—employment he obtained through AICMA. Gutiérrez has endeared himself to the AICMA team members, who have relentlessly sought out options for aiding him. On June 4, 2008 the Hospital San Rafael de Bogota, with the support of the Colombian government, successfully performed reconstructive surgery of Gutiérrez’s reproductive organs.

AICMA’s challenges and accomplishments help improve aid to victims and keep the program flexible. The reality of situations like Gutiérrez’s serves as an impetus for creative problem-solving on how to enhance aid to landmine survivors and their families; because it is not only saving lives that matters, but also improving the quality of people’s lives. Through this program, support has been given to people who would not otherwise receive rehabilitation and reintegration services and be able to contribute to the productivity of their communities.

Donors of the program include the governments of Canada, Italy, Spain, and the United States. Their support has continued to make an important difference. JMA icon

Biography

Nicole Vera is a consultant for the OAS’s Office of Humanitarian Mine Action. She recently graduated from Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, with a Bachelor of Arts in English.



Endnotes

  1. Editor’s note: The conflict noted here was between the Sandinistas and U.S.-back Contras. The Sandinistas, of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional, were a leftist political organization in Nicaragua that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and established a government with assistance from Cuba and its leader, Fidel Castro. The U.S.-supported insurgent groups, know as Contras, violently battled the Sandinistas until the latter stepped down from power in 1990.
  2. Figures from the AICMA office in Managua, Nicaragua.
  3. Editor’s note: The Colombian government alleges a connection between such groups and narcotics traffic because landmines have been found around illegal drug laboratories and plantations.
  4. The Colombian political structures of departments are comparable to states found in the U.S.
  5. Figures are according to the Colombian Programa Presidential para la Acción Integral contra Minas Antipersonal, or PPAICMA, which is the presidential program for mine action in the country.

Contact Information

J. Nicole Vera
Organization of American States
Office of Humanitarian Mine Action
1889 F St. NW
Washington, DC 20006 / USA
Tel: +1 202 458 3769
E-mail: nvera(at)oas.org
Web site: http://aicma.oas.org/