OAS—AICMA and Mine-risk Education in Nicaragua

by José Ramón Zepeda [ Organization of American States ]

From 1979 to 1990, a violent internal conflict ravaged Nicaragua, leaving the country contaminated with landmines and unexploded ordnance. To help minimize the number of victims within the country, the Organization of American States’mine-action program, Acción Integral contra las Minas Antipersonal, has been working with mine-risk education campaigns to help educate and inform communities about landmines and UXO.

The Organization of American States’ Acción Integral contra las Minas Antipersonal program implements mine-risk education campaigns as an immediate response to the large number of mine-related accidents happening in high-risk communities in Nicaragua, particularly in the northern region of the country. The program focuses on farmers that work near minefields. The campaign’s main objectives are promoting safe behavior and providing education on how to handle the landmine problem before and after demining activities have taken place.

Special graphic displays urging people to walk safely have been created with the assistance of the National Demining Commission. Additional educational tools, such as posters, notebooks, rulers, backpacks and bags, are printed and distributed among students, community leaders and the at-risk population. It is important to notice that these tools are printed with images and language adapted for the targeted community, using input from the local leaders before producing large quantities.

The ongoing MRE campaigns are focused on communities living within a five-kilometer radius (three miles) of minefields identified by the Nicaraguan Army and local farmers.

Since this topic is so important for the affected communities, OAS–AICMA designed campaigns for educators to visit each house and interact with the population, provide information to children in their classrooms and, in coordination with local leaders, provide the information in popular gathering places like churches, municipal fairs and meetings. OAS–AICMA finds that this approach yields better results than other methods they have tried.

While engaging in these MRE programs, students participate in painting, singing and poetry contests, which allow the educators to assess whether the message is understood by the participants. Contest winners receive their prizes in ceremonies held in the capital city.


AICMA Team Member conducts house-to-house mine-risk education in Jalapa, Nueva Segovia department, Nicaragua.
Photo courtesy of PADCA-OEA, Managua

The OAS–AICMA MRE program also uses the radio as a tool to remind the population about the landmine risk. Some of the campaigns include popular radio programs hosted by program educators, which air early in the morning before farmers head out to work their land.

The immediate results of these MRE campaigns were the reduction of landmine accidents among the at-risk population and the continued involvement of the at-risk population as volunteer educators themselves after undergoing training in local workshops. These new volunteer educators help sustain awareness after program educators have visited the communities.

Following the conflict in Nicaragua during the 1980s,1 there were many unmarked landmine fields in the country, as well as areas littered with unexploded ordnance. The MRE campaigns have played an important role in compiling information about the location of landmines and UXO. MRE messages tell the locals to report landmines and UXO to the authorities so the Nicaraguan Army can remove and destroy the threat. Identification and registration of landmine victims that require medical attention and/or prosthesis replacements is also very important. These services are financed by AICMA under its landmine-victim-assistance program.

The mine-awareness campaigns have been deemed successful, thanks to the involvement of the program educators, community leaders and students continue to participate in the “For a Nicaragua Free of Landmines” campaign.

Biography

Jose Ramón Zepeda was born in Estelí, Nicaragua. He studied systems engineering at Northern University in Ocotal and became involved in mine action in 1999. Since then, he has worked extensively on issues related to MRE in Nicaragua and abroad. Zepeda currently serves as MRE Education Coordinator for the OAS Mine Action Program in Jinotega and Nueva Segovia.


Endnotes

  1. In 1979 the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, or in English, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, overthrew the Somoza regime and seized control of Nicaragua. Resistance to the Sandinistas came from the guerrilla-warfare efforts of the Contras, or counter-revolutionaries until the Sapoa Accord ceasefire of March 23, 1988. This agreement, along with others in February and August of 1989, eventually lead to the disarmament of the Contras and their reintegration into the Nicaraguan political scene.

Contact Information

José Ramón Zepeda
AICMA MRE Coordinator
Organization of American States
De la Iglesia El Carmen 1c. abajo
Reparto El Carmen
Managua / Nicaragua
Tel: +1 505 2266-0465 or +1 505 2222 6867
Fax: +1 505 2266 0584
Email: oea_dmdo@ibw.com.ni