Hanin, 20, and Mahdi, 23, recently joined NPA Lebanon as deminers in Rass Baalbek. Under a project funded by the European Union’s Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) in partnership with Mines Advisory Group (MAG), they are clearing explosives ordnances near the Syrian border in North-East Lebanon.
After one month of intensive training at the Regional School for Humanitarian Demining in Lebanon and one month of training at NPA office in Rass Baalbek, Hanin and Mahdi were accredited as deminers by the Lebanese Mine Action Center (LMAC). One week after their first day in the field, we asked them some questions about the job and about their first impressions. This interview is the first of a series, as we will continue to follow Hanin and Mahdi’s paths with NPA Lebanon in the coming months.
Tell us about you, your families, your hobbies?
“My name is Hanin, I am 20 years old and live in Baalbek, but I am from Al Ain village originally. Before joining NPA I was studying nursing there. I am the elder of three sisters, my dad was in the army before and now drives a school bus in the area. My mom is not working. As for my hobbies, I enjoy going out with my friends and playing sports, especially volleyball. I also like chatting with my friends on social media, maybe a bit too much (laugh)”.
“My name is Mahdi and I am also from Al Ain and still live there. I am 23 years old and before NPA, I was studying Information Technology at the University. My dad was also in the Army but not anymore and my mom doesn’t work. Now my dad grows vegetables and I sometimes help him. I have two sisters, one older and one younger as well as one younger brother. I am the 2nd oldest. On my free time, I like to swim in the river in the summer and ski in the winter. I also hunt birds like many of my friends”.
Why did you decide to take this job?
“Well, I was still studying nursing and working as a nurse, but my salary was very low and I didn’t have a lot of opportunities ahead”, says Hanin. “Then I saw the job offer for a searcher position at NPA in Arsal and decided to apply”.
Mahdi says: “In the northeast, there are not many opportunities and a lot of young people are jobless. If you want to work you need to go to Beirut and I didn’t want to. I was studying Information Technologies and helping my dad in his plantation but when I saw the job offer from NPA on Facebook, I also thought that it would be great to apply and I did”.
How did your family and friends react when you told them that you wanted to be a deminer?
“They reacted very well, no one complained”, Hanin laughs. “Of course they told me to be careful and some neighbors were curious, but that’s all. Even as a woman, I didn’t have to face any remarks”.
Mahdi says that his family didn’t have any issues at all. “ With my friends though, I received some comments like “it’s too dangerous” “where are you going?” but I got used to it…I also feel that some of them were a bit jealous because this is a good job” (laugh).
What do you like about being a deminer?
“So far, I like everything about it”, says Hanin. “We are all working as a team, it’s like a family. I feel a strong solidarity amongst the staff and that is what I like”.
Mahdi agrees. “Yes, the feeling of being in a team is very nice. Also, our main focus is helping people from the area by clearing dangerous places, this is very important”.
That’s a common question when you read about mine action and deminers: are you scared when you go to the field?
“No, not at all. Because there are many safety rules and if you respect them, nothing will happen” Hanin explains.
“She’s right, everything is clearly framed to keep you safe on the field, so I am not scared, says Mahdi.
How was your first day in the field?
“I felt very comfortable on my first day in the field”, says Hanin. “We were trained for two months and we knew what the job was. Of course, it is always different in real, but we were well trained. We all thought it was time for us to be deployed, that’s why we all felt comfortable”.
Mahdi says that he is also was comfortable and also very excited to start working after the training.
You just started obviously but what do you think you can improve in your job?
“I want to be faster”, says Hanin. “But, as you said, we just started so we have time. And we will learn from the experienced people in the team to become faster while staying safe”.
Mahdi says that he want to improve everything. “And I hope that in the future I can become Team Leader and then Site Supervisor. But we still have time”.
Do you think demining is useful? Why?
“Demining is a job full of purpose. The first thing of course is to save lives. After the war in the area and also in the South, many people died, as well as animals. Demining will help avoiding more accidents to take place. And also, we are clearing land so people can resume their activities like planting cherries, it is very common here, says Hanin, and Mahdi agrees:
“Yes, saving lives is important. We never know, it could be our brothers or sisters that go there and get injured…or even worse”.
Would you share any message to young girls and boys like you who would hesitate to apply?
Both: “It’s a good stable job and we are helping our community. Of course, it can be dangerous but there are safety rules in place. They shouldn’t hesitate!”
NPA and MAG are partnering under a project funded by the European Union’s IcSP in the Arsal province. The mountain range overlooking Arsal in the North East of Lebanon was occupied by Jabhat Al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other non-state armed groups from 2014 until 2017, as a spill over from the Syrian civil war. The area was subsequently recaptured by the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in 2017 and was found to contain a large number of conventional and improvised landmines, and other Improvised Explosive Devices, caused by the fighting between security forces and non-state actors. NPA and MAG are deploying six clearance teams to clear a minimum of 150,000 m2 of contaminated land by December 2020.