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Avoiding the Bombs in their Backyard

"I used to be very scared" said the father of 12. Photo: NPA

Until NPA Mine Risk Education team visited, Saddam and his family had relied on God for safety. They live in a village in South Lebanon contaminated with unexploded bombs.

During a visit to a seemingly abandoned village called Em Al Awameed in South Lebanon, NPAs Mine Risk Education team spotted two kids from a distance. This led the team to take a closer look at the village, finding a family of sixteen living in one of the abandoned buildings, former used as a church.

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The wife and kids milking the goats.

Em Al Awameed was targeted by Israeli forces in 2006 and still contains an unknown number of unexploded cluster bombs. The village is a temporary location for nomads to settle and offer agricultural activities for the neighbouring landowners.

Saddam Al Mohammad’s family consists of three wives and twelve kids, 7 girls and 5 boys with ages ranging from 4 to 19 years old. Six years ago the family fled the war in Syria. They lack access to basics such as healthcare, housing, and education. The children assist their father with his work, in proximity to explosive remnants. “If we don’t work, we don’t eat” the father explains.

Improvised Awareness

Under a 20-month project funded by the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) in South Lebanon, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), in collaboration with Mines Advisory Group (MAG), is clearing landmines and cluster munitions, as well as raising awareness about their threats through Mine Risk Education (MRE).

Meeting the family of 16, NPA’s Mine Risk Education (MRE) team took the opportunity to provide an improvised awareness session. Both grownups and kids welcomed NPA with warm smiles and excitement.

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Rachana Atmeh, NPA Community Liaison Officer, showing the family a mockup of a cluster munition remnant.

As the session began, they all gathered in a semi-circle. Rachana Atmeh, NPA’s MRE officer, showed them replicas of different types of explosive remnants and explained the risks involved. In the middle of the session, Mohammad, 9 years old, mentioned that he picked up a similar device as the one Rachana held, to which his father worryingly asked “where did you put it?”

Mohammad stood up to show him from the window, but realised that the munition was gone. Concern overcame the family at this point, after which Rachana explained how to act when they find possible explosive devices: “don’t touch, stay far, report”.

A risk with each step

After the session, the NPA team stepped outside to show the family where the dangerous areas are. “Let me show you now a bag of thyme we picked from the land you suspect to be contaminated. I am imagining if anything had happened then, God forbid, me and the whole family would’ve been dead. Thank God we’re safe.” Saddam said.

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Knowledge about how to avoid the explosives, Saddam and his family are safer, although they continue facing difficult living conditions.

At a golden sunset later that day, Saddam’s kids released 150 goats to graze as he sat with a big bucket between his knees preparing to filter the goat milk his wives previously collected.

There is a risk with each step any of the family members or the goats make, yet living with this threat is unavoidable as the family lack alternatives. Fortunately, they are now more aware of the risks. “I used to be very scared. I didn’t know anything before and used to roam around relying on God for safety, so did my family. But now we will be more careful”, concluded Saddam. 

25.06.2019 | Hala Amhaz