More than 554 square kilometres in the north and east of Sri Lanka have been cleared of mines and UXO (unexploded ordnance) since 1 January 2009, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
But by the end of 2011, about 126 sqkm of land still remained to be cleared. Children and youth remain at particularly high risk of mine injuries and death owing to the presence of mines around schools, homes and playing fields.
To mark International Day for Mine Awareness on April 4, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has been running a week of action called 'Clear Landmines Now'.
In Sri Lanka, the team visited Sinnapandivirichchan School in the Mannar District. The school was reopened after the village was successfully cleared of mines. The whole school took part in a day of celebration and awareness activities, including making their own campaign t-shirts and role-playing with visiting de-miners.
‘We wanted to do something high impact and creative and at the same time give them an experience they would remember and associate with landmine clearance,’ said Aarthi Dharmadasa, MAG Programme Officer. ‘Painting t-shirts was a novel idea as the school didn’t have an art programme. Students as young as 5 and 6 were drawing landmines.’
Former war reporter turned UNICEF Ambassador, Martin Bell OBE, is a patron of MAG. He said: ‘MAG operates in 16 countries in which the most important subject a child will learn is mine awareness. Get that wrong and you don’t have a life. The need for this work has never been greater than it is now.’
All photos by Aarthi Dharmadasa.