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Afghanistan: mine awareness at the doctor's surgery

31-10-2004 Feature

A health clinic in Kalakan, a heavily mine-infested region on the Shamali plain north of Kabul, may seem an unlikely place for a mine awareness presentation but this is just the kind of place that attracts an important target audience. Jessica Barry reports.

This was no ordinary session, for everyone present, participants and trainers alike, were female; and this in a country where many women, especially in rural areas, seldom venture outside their homes.

 
 
©ICRC / J. Barry 
 

One woman had walked for two hours from her village to get to Kalakan. Dressed in a purple-flowered dress and traditional red baggy trousers, she hid her face shyly when asked her name. Pointing to the woman who had come with her she said,

" That's Jamila, " and then, plucking up courage, she added, " And my name is Atlas. We know all about the mines on the mountain behind our village where the children graze the animals. "

Farida, 22, has been a mine awareness trainer for a year. Together with her colleague, 25-year-old Malina, she is part of a four-women team based in the Afghan Red Crescent Society headquarters in Kabul.

They make regular visits to some 20 health clinics and hospitals in Parwan and Kabul provinces to tell women about the dangers posed by landmines and other unexploded ordnance, such as rockets and mortars. They also pass on crucial tips about how to live safely in contaminated areas.

" If you see a line of red and white-painted stones, it is safe to walk on the side where the white stones are lying, but not on the red side, " Malina cautioned the women in the Kalakan clinic, using simple words to explain the marking of minefields to her largely illiterate audience.

" And you can also keep yourself and your children safe by only walking on well-trodden paths and never picking up any object that you can't identify. "

At the end of the session Atlas took the blue and yellow leaflet and turned it over thoughtfully, looking at the pictures of mine markings and of children showing their friends how to avoid dangerous areas.

" I will put this on the wall in my house, so everyone can see it. " she said.

The effort being made by the ARCS to involve women in mine awareness training comes not a moment too soon. Records show that the number of female mine victims in many parts of Afghanistan has risen. Mothers are also able to pass the information on to their children.

 
 
©ICRC / J. Barry 
 
The ARCS mine awareness presentations, which include both theory and practical exercises, last for about an hour. Youngsters love the interactive approach but women tend to be more reticent.
 
" For me, the hardest part of the session is to get the mothers to join in the role play, " admits Farida, " Most of them are much too shy. "
 
When asked if she, herself, had had any hesitatio n about becoming a mine awareness trainer, the young woman smiled. " No, not at all, " she replied. " I wanted to do something to help others, and the work is interesting. "  Then, pausing for a moment, she added: " But I'm engaged to be married and I don't know if my husband will want me to continue after the wedding. I hope so. "
 
The ARCS mine awareness programme began in 1994 and covers central, eastern and northern Afghanistan. At present there are 52 personnel aided by over 150 volunteers. The ICRC has supported the programme since 1995, helping to instruct the trainers and supervising the different activities. In the months ahead the programme will expand to the western provinces, and is due to be implemented in the south of Afghanistan during 2005.