by Andy Smith, for Golden West Humanitarian Foundation (GWHF)
Mine Action and Demining – “Black-Arts”?
Surveyors and deminers practice a profession that is often represented as being both brave and mysterious. This myth may seem harmless, but it is not. It is a form of intimidation. You, the public, are supposed to accept that demining is dangerous, macho-man stuff and you should shut up and trust us. That’s fine if you live in Washington, D.C., but not if you live in a mined area.
If you live in a mined area, you usually cannot learn what you need to know by simply getting hold of a training course. Practical mine action training courses for deminers, surveyors and the general public are often no more than a list of topics that must be covered. Training is often limited to cover what the trainees must do, not what they may want to understand. Training of the public is usually limited to admonitions not to do things, with no real attempt to explain why or offer alternatives.
Information, Not Intimidation
Most of the information needed for training is available. There is an encyclopaedic range of technical data on mines and ordnance (fascinating if sometimes contradictory). There are many works on training methods and cross-cultural communication, adult learning and competence building. What are not often available are technically correct training resources for use with the courses that are already being run throughout the humanitarian mine action industry.
I recognised the need for training resources two years ago and set out to produce some with the GWHF. Colin King advised and was the technical editor. I began by producing a pilot for field review. The pilot was widely applauded and is still in demand. Based on the success of the pilot, we were able to gain U.S. DOS support to produce two country-specific packs. The training resource pack for Mozambique is in the field, and the resource pack for Angola is ready for release.
Each resource pack is a large format ring-binder containing 55 plastic-laminated sheets (A3, or USB). One side shows a photograph or photographs. The other side has text in Portuguese and English explaining the pictures and suggesting teaching uses. Pages can be separated for sharing or for pinning to the wall. The pictures illustrate a generic mine action education course, covering information needs of the surveyor, deminer and general public in that country.
The training resources are not designed as complete courses but are intended to enhance existing ones. However, where no course exists, the resource provides a comprehensive starting template.
The photographs show real devices in a relevant context and include varied levels of technical detail that the teacher can choose to stress or gloss over depending on the needs of the audience. When possible, aged mines and UXO are featured. These can look very different from the same item direct from the stores. Photographs taken in the region are used to give the images a more immediate relevance to people who have not travelled far. They are also proving compulsive to ex-pat visitors.
During March, I visited PAD in Mozambique and MineTech in Zimbabwe to follow up on their usage and find out what they liked and disliked. I also visited MgM, Handicap International (HI), Instituto Nacional de Desminagem (IND—the Mozambique MAC) and NPA to hold workshops introducing the resource to their trainers.
These workshops were with surveyor and deminer trainers as well as those involved in mine risk education work with the general public. The resource was well received by all. The trainers suggested that almost all of the images could be used with any audience.
The large loose-leaf format was liked and there was enthusiasm for the use of photographs taken in-situ. The inclusion of a generic mine action course and teaching notes on the reverse of each page was also appreciated. The trainers particularly liked the fact that the text was in Portuguese and English—so recognising their own language and incidentally helping them to learn an English demining vocabulary. Unexpectedly, field surveyors and deminers use the resource for reference—and asked for some technical detail to be expanded.
Following the workshops, IND formally requested 640 resource packs to be donated for distribution to every district in Mozambique via the Ministry of Education. The GWHF is currently seeking funding to enable them to comply with this request.
The Angola training resource pack is scheduled for distribution during the summer of 2002, which may have happened by the time you read this.
The following individuals were consulted when planning this programme or gave help and advice during it. Any weaknesses in the resource do not reflect on them:
Matthew Chambers, Florencio Chongo, Ken O’Connell, John Dingley, Justin Bradley, Mike Wilson, Dieter Guelle, Roger Hess, Havard Bach, Robert Thomson (Tommo), Chris Pearce, John Flannagan, Mario Nunes, Bob Keeley, Tim Lardner, Steve Priestley, Jan Ole Robertz, Fredrik Palsson, Jacky D’Almeda, Helder Cruz, Mark Manning, Filipe Muzima, Felix Andrea, Peter Fuyane, Christiaan (Burg) Geel, Aderito Ishmael, Hugh Lawrence, Theo van Dyke, Derek Baxter, Andy Frizzell, Sr Verissimo, Nicholas Finnister, Thomas Augusto, Willie Lawrence, Marcus van Zyl, Hendrik Ehlers and Hans Georg Kruessen. Thanks also to the main translators, Anabela Bach and Cláudio de Sousa.
During dissemination, the following organisations were of great help: IND; PAD (UNADP), HI, NPA, MgM, and MineTech.
Finally, our thanks to all at U.S. DOS for the funding support that made this possible.
GWHF is a charitable foundation based in the USA. It is dedicated to supporting humanitarian mine action. Andy Smith is an independent HD consultant.
*All photos courtesy of the author.