MRE and Community Leader Involvement in Risk-prone Colombia

by Lina María Arias Rojas and Ginna Andrea Lozano Jiménez [ Organization of American States ]

The presence of unexploded ordnance and anti-personnel mines in regions of Colombia has displaced families and stirred up fear throughout the population. The Organization of American States’ Acción Integral contra las Minas Antipersonal program is bringing hope to these suffering communities by providing mine-risk education to its leaders and through creative awareness programs in its school systems.

In July 2008, the Organization of American States’ Acción Integral contra las Minas Antipersonal program began mine-risk education activities in Colombia. Activities and campaigns are coordinated with Colombia’s Programa Presidencial de Acción Integral contra las Minas Antipersonal, (PPAICMA, Presidential Program for Mine Action). The first OAS–AICMA campaigns were designed to complement emergency clearance operations covering the population in the municipality of San Francisco in Antioquia and displaced families around the locality of Bajo Grande, Bolivar department.1


Students learn about mine risks in their school in San Francisco, Antioquia department.
All photos courtesy of the authors

An important step in beginning MRE activities was selecting community leaders in each of the target zones who could carry out prevention activities and promote the AICMA campaign messages. Respected leaders from these communities who are familiar with their community’s needs and environment, can better educate at-risk families. After completing the required OAS– AICMA training, these leaders become mine-risk-education advocates.

These AICMA advocates visit the countryside around mined areas under emergency clearance to educate the population on prevention measures while learning from the people’ s experiences. The inhabitants tell of their pain, hopelessness and anxiety caused by armed conflict in their region, which has forced them to abandon their plots, homes, and in certain cases, their entire communities.

The beginning of clearance operations gives hope to displaced families of safely returning to their homes and recovering their way of life. MRE advocates tell families what to do when finding explosive artifacts on countryside footpaths, near their houses or around their plots or schools.

In each municipality with ongoing MRE programs, the student population is mindfully included. AICMA advocates bring their campaign messages to schools using playful activities that increase interest and creativity among children and adolescents, resulting in improvements that are incorporated into future programs throughout the different communities. The campaign also uses games, lotteries and posters to transmit information on safe behavior.

San Francisco is considered the municipality with the greatest number of landmine victims in the country. The population sometimes acts recklessly when confronting unexploded artifacts. For instance, Delio Martinez, a planter from San Isidro, a sector of the San Francisco municipality, told us how he deactivated unexploded ordnance by hacking the munitions with his machete. Fortunately, the weapons did not explode, but this practice indicated the need for preventive education. Without knowing the dangers of UXO, inhabitants may try to deactivate explosives and may suffer serious injuries or death.


Community MRE is held in the municipality of San Jacinto, department of Bolivar.
Photo courtesy of the author

The AICMA campaign is already proving effective at raising awareness of the risks of UXO and how to deal with it. The campaigns have also generated information leading to the identification of landmine victims. This knowledge allows survivors to participate in medical and psychological rehabilitation, as well as vocational and social reintegration. During the campaigns, the general population is encouraged to provide information on the location of landmines elsewhere in the region in order to complete the database for emergency demining operations.

Campaign work with other community leaders and members of local organizations continues to parallel the work done through schools and house-to-house visits in the communities. The AICMA leaders desire to equip community members with the knowledge to educate fellow citizens about safety procedures concerning UXO and anti-personnel mines.

The OAS– AICMA program facilitators are acutely aware that campaigns by themselves are not enough. Follow-up activities with inhabitants are necessary to ensure that safe behaviors are practiced. In the long run, the people in these regions of Antioquia and Bolivar departments will help reduce the number of landmine accidents.

Biographies

Lina María Arias Rojas, born in Bogotá, Colombia, majored in psychology at the National University of Colombia. Currently, she is in charge of developing and implementing the mine-risk education component of the OAS–AICMA program in Colombia.





Ginna Andrea Lozano Jiménez, born in Bogotá, Colombia, graduated from the University of Cundinamarca with a bachelor’s degree in social work. She develops all administrative plans for the mine-risk education component of the OAS– AICMA program in Colombia.


Endnotes

  1. Departments are subdivided portions of a country, much like a state, province, or county, that were set up by the country–s government.¬†They are sometimes overseen by semiautonomous governing bodies.

Contact Information

Lina María Arias Rojas
MRE Manager, Colombia
OAS–AICMA
Carrera 10 No. 27-51 Interior 150, Suite 1801
Bogotá, D.C. / Colombia
Tel: + 571 283 5225
E-mail: nalile2000@hotmail.com
Web site: http://www.aicma-ec.org/

Ginna Andrea Lozano Jiménez
Assistant MRE Manager, Colombia
OAS–AICMA
Tel: + 571 282 6162
E-mail: alozano@aicma-ec.org
Web site: http://www.aicma-ec.org/