Landmines & life

Felix is 12 years old.

He lives in Tete in the north west of Mozambique.

Felix has one leg

 

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12 year old Felix

In 2008 innocently walked through a minefield he stepped on a landmine. Miraculously surviving this terrible accident he will be an amputee for the rest of his life.

 

Now when he walks to school he has to do so with the aid of wooden crutches, he can’t run like all his friends and working as a farmer or cow herder like his elders will be hard if not impossible for this young boy.

 

I met Felix last week on a visit to the area. It was absolutely heartbreaking but served as a cruel reminder of just one of the reasons I get out of bed in the morning. 

 

Leaving Manica for the long drive up to Tete province we discussed priorities for the money we have available for mine clearance in Mozambique. The drive is 7 hours so it was quite a long discussion!!

 

Although the location I am setting up has a lot of its plate we are always looking to maximize the manpower and resources we have available and we were confident we could expand into the next door province if only money would come our way.

 

We were staying high up in a stunning hill town in Tete in a rather rustic (!) but oh so colonial hotel. As we drove through the town it was easy to imagine the days of the Portuguese in this part of the world…even though most of the buildings now could do with a bit of love and attention!

 

Our mission was to recce a big minefield in advance of bringing an American visitor the following week.

 

As is the norm in Mozambique your day starts with the important official business of visiting the local Government office and in our case also heading to the police station where we were told we would be accompanied by the Commandante Chief of Police no less!

 

I was designated driver for the day and it put my nerves on edge having to do my very best driving knowing the man sat next to me was basically the highest possible ranking police officer you can get!

 

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Sandwiched between Commandante and his Chief Ops Officer!

I was dying for an excuse to call his attention for something just to be able to utter ‘Commandante’ to him…how oh so Che Guevara!!

 

(just for the record I offered him a bottle of water…”queres agua Commandante?”)

 

We arrived at the minefield and our local informant pointed out the Danger! Mine sign above the path used by locals to take their maize to sell at market. As if on cue a lady with a basket load of maize balanced on her head passed directly between us and the mine sign nailed to the tree.

 

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You can clearly see the mine sign on the tree to the left

Our informant had just informed us that cattle herding was the main livelihood in the area when we were stopped dead in our tracks…a boy of no more than 10 years old was following his cows directly towards us – through the area the man had distinctly just pointed out as the minefield.

 

Sadly cows can’t be told where a minefield is and so where your sole source of income goes, you follow. Even – as in this case – if that forces you into a minefield.

 

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Cows in the minefield with young boy scarily close

As normal during our investigations we asked about accidents in the area and it was then we were told about Felix. His village was a few kilometers on and so we accepted the invitation to meet this wee boy.

 

Driving towards his village we passed a small group of men, one leading another of them by a stick. We stopped the car and climbed out. The man being led had been injured by a landmine way back in the 1980’s during the civil war. He was blind in both eyes and had lost his right arm.

 

The man was so patient with us as we asked question after question to get the best picture we could of just how huge an impact this minefield has on this entire community.

 

Saddened by the man’s story we drove on to meet Felix. It is maybe a little unfair but seeing a child so severely damaged by a landmine seems just that little bit more heartbreaking than with an adult. And heartbreak it was. He stood there perching on his tiny wooden crutches as we asked his father about the terrible day which must so vividly haunt him.

 

What is the justification – surely it doesn’t exist – for how an entire community simply have to accept (resign themselves maybe?) to living their lives in the middle of a minefield.

 

Next week we have a potential donor visiting us who we desperately hope will fund our mine clearance in this beautiful but troubled part of the country. Keep your fingers crossed that our visitor agrees with us that urgent and immediate clearance here is nothing less than absolutely and categorically imperative.

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Tete province, a truly beautiful part of the world with a tragic problem

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2 Comments

  1. November 16, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    […] police Commandante (remember him? Landmines & life) came over to welcome me to his patch of grass we had set up home on. I always get a bit nervous […]

  2. January 5, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    […] Landmines & life 1 comment 4 […]


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