From Desperation to Self-Confidence: An Interview
With Landmine Survivor Mr. Francisco Peralta
by Juan Carlos Ruan, OAS Mine Action
Mr. Francisco Peralta is a Nicaraguan landmine survivor from
Ocotal, Department of Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua, who, as with many
landmine victims, lost much more than his limbs to this weapon. Mr.
Peralta lost his livelihood, his ability to support his family, his
self-confidence, and his overall happiness. Through his integration
into the Organization of American States’ (OAS’s) rehabilitation
program, however, his life has changed 100 percent. Today he stands as
a testament to the success of the OAS program and the need for this
type of program to assist landmine survivors and help them literally
and figuratively get back on their feet. Mr. Peralta explains his
traumatic accident and the physical and emotional pain he has
experienced throughout the years as "in the past" and is now equipped
to forge ahead as a productive member of his community and family.
Juan Carlos Ruan (JCR): Could you provide us some background
concerning your accident?
Francisco Peralta (FP): I was
drafted to military service and was fulfilling a mission on the border
with Honduras in San Andres de Bocay. I was walking along a path and
heard an explosion. I did not know what had occurred. The only thing I
felt was what I believed to be a grenade hitting my chest. I fell unconscious and approximately half an hour later, I awoke. I immediately wanted to get up. When I put my
foot down I noticed that I was placing only bone on the ground. I fell
again and that is when I notice that I had stepped on a mine that had
torn off my foot, part of my arm, and some fingers. It had torn off my
foot up to my knee. The shrapnel had also injured some of my friends.
One of my friends then came to my aid and grabbed my arm.
Unfortunately, we were in a minefield and he stepped on another mine,
which tore off the rest of my arm. He had lost one foot to the mine
and was able to hop out of the minefield. The rest of the troop
retreated as well. I was left in the hole that the mine explosion had
created. I remained there for approximately two hours. They had
retreated out of the minefield and were waiting for evacuation
assistance. I stepped on the mine at 10:00 am and spent the night
there next to the river until the helicopter arrived and transferred
me to a hospital where I received medical attention. The next day,
they took me to Managua. It took three days to reach the Military
Hospital in Managua. I remained there for two months recuperating from
the injury and then they sent me to be fitted for a prosthetic limb.
JCR: How did you become involved in the OAS program?
FP: The Nicaraguan army offers
insurance to injured soldiers, but we call it charity, a meager
amount, as well as the medical attention and prosthesis. In my case, I
had to pay for travel and would often have to go hungry in order to
get my prosthesis. They would give me the prosthesis but no
transportation, food or lodging. That was my responsibility. It was
not much help. They gave me 200 córdobas. That was my pension. I lived
in misery. I had a family. The life of a disabled person is very
difficult. Sometimes I am ashamed of asking for assistance. I have had
to ask for assistance many times. I have a family and I could not feed
my children. I did not have a job; I had nowhere to go. I spent 12
years this way.
When heard that the OAS had a program to assist landmine victims, I
contacted the OAS coordinator in Ocotal at the time and became more
informed on the program. I asked him if it was true that a program
existed that provided assistance. I told him that I was in critical
situation and needed help. I took the accident information to the OAS;
I was honest and told them that I was pensioned but that I needed
help. Once I made this contact, I received assistance with my
prosthesis including transportation, lodging, nutrition and a per
diem. I also received a pair of shoes for my prosthesis.
In addition to my leg and arm injury, the shrapnel also affected my
vision for which I requested assistance. They sent me to an eye
surgeon to get an operation and gave me some glasses. Since then I
have been part of the program. Now, thankfully, we have people
speaking for us in different forums like in Geneva. Thank God we found
funding for the training and reintegration program.... I thank the OAS
for everything. Today I am a woodworker.
JCR: Tell me a bit about your experiences during the training.
FP: I was very happy when I was
chosen for training, but I did not pay it too much attention. I did
not want to leave the family. Then I began thinking that I had to make
the sacrifice. I was never used to leaving my community for long
periods of time after my accident. I thought to myself that it was
only nine months and that I was going to take advantage of them. I
really did not think about being a woodworker because I was not
familiar with any of the tools. I asked myself, “How am I going to do
this?” When I started, they gave me the tools. I began sanding the
wood with my one hand and I felt like I could not do it. I thought I
would quit after a week. Then I committed myself to working hard, and
with some limitations I learned how to do it. It was a great thing.
Slowly I gained experience and eventually became confident in my
JCR: How has the program helped you?
FP: For one, my behavior is very
different from how it was in the past. Frankly, I was an antisocial
person. I was very rebellious. This was due to the situation in which
I lived. It was difficult seeing that my children were in need. I was
not able to obtain what I wanted because of how I was. I had all the
vices; that has been a big change. My self-esteem was very low. That
is one of the greatest things the program has offered me: self-esteem.
There was a time when I opted for suicide, seeing that I could not
support my family. I was already tired of so much suffering. I
suffered, my children suffered, my mother suffered, my brothers
suffered.... I wanted to get involved with things that would only lead
to death or incarceration. Thank God I did not get involved in these
things and the program reached me in time. The program has given me
life. The program came to pick me up and give me a hand; now I am on
my feet. My family is very thankful.
|Francisco Peralta, once despondent due to his landmine injuries, has become a productive woodworker thanks to the OAS rehabilitation program.
c/o Juan Carlos Ruan
JCR: What are your hopes for the future?
FP: First of all, people look at a
handicapped person badly. [Where I live,] they call them delinquents,
because perhaps they have seen them drunk, robbing someone, whatever....
That is what I was. I was isolating myself from the community through
my behavior, and because I was handicapped, the society was isolating me
as well. The problem of mines is something that is a horrible threat
for the civilian populations. I invite donors, organizations that have
the solidarity spirit with Nicaragua to continue with this solidarity
supporting mine victims in Nicaragua and other countries where mines
are a threat. As I said, before the OAS program I had opted for
suicide. I was in a chaotic situation; I could not find what to do.
Today I am not the same person. Today I feel as if I am an example for
some disabled and other people as well. I would like to see the
program continue so that we disabled people have the opportunity to
Mr. Peralta's story is not unique. Many people throughout the
hemisphere have suffered landmine accidents. Unfortunately, without
the kind of assistance provided by organizations such as the OAS,
these landmine survivors are often left in desperate situations. To
date, 106 people have graduated from the OAS social reintegration
program, with relative success. Seventy more survivors are projected
to begin training in 2004. For each participant that is able and, more
important, willing to be rehabilitated, there are those that are not
able to overcome their traumatic experience or social condition.
However, the number of survivors that do become rehabilitated
justifies a large investment in this program. It takes one glance into
the life of a landmine survivor before and after the program to
realize the importance of its existence as well as its achievements.
Juan Carlos Ruan
OAS Mine Action
1889 F St, 8th Floor
Washington, DC 20006
Tel: (202) 458-3343
Fax: (202) 458-3545