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"I found my vocation"

Meet Colombia’s first female Mine Detection Dog leader

Maria de los Angeles Trujillo is originally from the municipality of Uribe in the Department of Meta, Colombia. She is 26 years old and has been with Norwegian Peoples’ Aid for two and a half years. She began as a manual deminer, then moved to work with Mine Detection Dogs (MDD) and finally became an MDD leader, which means she oversees a team of eight deminers working with MDD.

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Before becoming a deminer, Maria graduated from a technical training in Judicial Investigation and Security, which opened the path for her to work operating security cameras. She transitioned into the Humanitarian Demining field when she attended a NPA Colombia mine risk education course in her hometown and found out about job openings.

Currently, she is Colombia’s first woman to be a leader with Mine Detection Dogs. We had the chance to speak with her about her experience, and this is what she told us:

Q: How did you move from manual demining to mine detection dogs?

A: Right after finishing up the manual demining training, Ibro (MDD trainer for NPA Colombia) said he needed five people to work with dogs. As I am fascinated by dogs and think they truly are humans’ best company, I volunteered. Happy to have done so because, here, I found my vocation.

At first, I spent a year and a half working as a deminer with dogs and later on, I trained to become an MDD leader. 

Q: How does it feel to be the only female MDD leader?

A: A big responsibility. First to represent women, and secondly, to do a really good job. To be honest, it is a challenge because we live in a very patriarchal society (note from editor: demining activities are often seen as a masculine job, therefore, recruiting women is sometimes difficult). Yet, I have been lucky to have my boss’ full and unconditional support to thrive on this field. It hasn’t been easy, but with discipline and persistence I have pushed myself to reach the position I’m in.

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Q: What would you say are some team characteristics that boost your confidence and drive you to seek your goals?

A:  Collaboration, mutual support, and trust. The responsibility my boss has given to me…

Q: What are some of the responsibilities you have as an MDD leader?

A: They vary. When in camp, training other MDD deminers. When in operations – which I haven’t begun yet as it’s only been three months of training as leader, but I already feel prepare to do it – send the dog to find antipersonnel mines or other artifacts that were planted during the armed conflict.

Q: How does it feel to be working in Humanitarian Demining (HD) in a region that was directly affected by the armed conflict, and from where you are?

A: Well, to be honest, it makes me really happy. It is a very big challenge but it’s really satisfying to me. It is an opportunity to help communities clean their land so that they can continue planting, farming, and carrying out their projects. Working in Humanitarian Demining drives me to help other people, and it gives me great satisfaction to be able to tell them: “this area was cleared by Mine Detection Dogs, I’m 100% sure that there’s nothing. You can use the land and take advantage of this resource.”

Q: What do your family say of your work in Humanitarian Demining? 

A: Both my mom and dad support me 100%. They are really proud of me because in my family everyone fears the mines, but I have seen that this work is not dangerous at all. If you follow the procedures, you won’t have any problems.

Q: What dreams and goals do you currently have?

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A: Continue my work and eventually, if the opportunity comes up, work in another country. For this, I need to improve my English. So, I’m currently enrolled in an English school in Villavicencio. I talked to my boss and he game me permission to leave earlier on Saturdays to attend class.

16.05.2019 | Arianna Orozco