Demining is A Job Full of Purpose - Part II
Hanin (21) and Mahdi (24) are two deminers who joined Norwegian People’s Aid Lebanon in June 2019 to clear explosive ordnance from contaminated land near the Syrian border in North-East Lebanon under a project funded by the European Union’s Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP).
We first got to know the two young deminers’ career expectations and aspirations 18 months ago, in an interview conducted shortly after their first deployment to the field. Did the job live up to their expectations?
It’s been a year and a half since you joined NPA. How would you sum up the experience so far?
“I’m very happy with my job so far, especially now as the current economic situation in Lebanon worsens. With my salary, I feel secure because I can support myself and my family when needed”, Mahdi shares.
Haneen agrees. “It’s been amazing so far. There’s danger and risk in our type of work, but what makes it easy is our working environment: a good team spirit and flexible line managers. Also, we are contributing in making our country safer. It makes me happy when I’m working in the field and see a shepherd herding in an area we cleared before. It’s a good feeling knowing he’s safe”.
Given the unprecedented economic crisis and political turmoil in Lebanon recently, has this job made a difference financially?
“With the currency devaluation, my salary in US dollars is helping me and my parents a lot now. It’s a blessing from God in these difficult circumstances. Although my father is employed, his salary can only cover the bills now, so I’m helping with home groceries and the school tuition fees for my younger brother and sister. In my time, I had to work to get an education, so I am happy my siblings don’t have to go through that”, Mahdi explains.
“During this tough time, I’m helping my parents. I buy the home groceries, pay for my mom’s diabetes medicine, cover my three sisters’ school tuition fees as well as my own university fees”, Haneen says.
“There’s certainly a notable difference in lifestyle between the employed and unemployed people in my area. Everything became unaffordable, including food. That’s why I’m very grateful that I’m working with NPA so we can help ourselves and others”, she continues.
Have you experienced and substantial changes in your personal lives since the start of your employment with NPA?
“My job with NPA is helping me try new experiences and exercise old hobbies more frequently. For example, I bought a car and I can drive it to go ski in winter, whereas I had to save for months for such a trip before my employment”, Mahdi happily mentions.
“Another new opportunity I’ve gained from NPA is learning English. As I worked with expats for the first time in my life, I realized English is a universal language that I’d like to learn in order to communicate more easily, so I’m taking classes now”. Lastly, he adds, “Don’t laugh, but I wasn’t able to afford a gym membership before. Now that I can, I exercise regularly and this has reflected positively in my job which requires a certain level of physical fitness”.
As for Haneen, she shares a similar interest in learning English amongst other new hobbies. “There are so many things I was introduced to during the past year and a half. I was able to play volleyball and get a membership in the gym. I previously worked in a hospital for six years, but only when I worked with NPA was I able to renovate my house and buy a car. The car gave me the chance to be more independent. I’m also learning English online because I would like to speak to my expat managers without being assisted by a translator”, she mentions.
What challenges have you faced throughout your employment, and how did you deal with them?
“In the beginning the job was new and obviously very challenging. But then I got used to it. Now my biggest challenge is when the Lebanese Mine Action Center (LMAC) visits the field for Quality Assurance (QA)”, Mahdi laughs.
Haneen, on the other hand, points out the harsh weather conditions in Jurud Arsal.
“In winter it gets very cold, whereas sometimes in summer it is too hot to work. Also, I think female deminers by nature have to put more physical effort into the work compared to male deminers, so it’s an achievement when my work results are equal to those of a male. After Rima Mehieddine, a fellow female deminer received a promotion to Deputy Team Leader, me and my female colleagues gained more confidence in our abilities, and were encouraged to work even harder!”
How do you think mine action in Arsal, North-East Lebanon has benefitted people living and working in these dangerous areas?
“Many people were scared to enter their lands after the war ended in 2017. Several farmers and shepherds fell victims to the unexploded ordnance that littered the fields back then. Now that we’re present in the area, you can tell the community’s fear diminished and they’re more encouraged to bring their kids with them”, says Mahdi.
Haneen adds, “for example, we found two unexploded cluster bombs between the rocks on a clearance site which was a quarry. Its owner, who had also lost some of his sheep to explosive remnants of war, was very grateful that he can operate his quarry safely after our intervention. Also, in Chaat village, we found a hand grenade in an apple orchard close to residential houses where kids also played”. She concluded, “This kind of job is very important for the area because although the war ended, we’re still living with conflict”.
Haneen, in your first interview you mentioned that you would like to learn how to work faster, keeping in mind the safety measures, and Mahdi, you had ambitions of becoming a Team Leader and then Site Supervisor with NPA. Did you get any closer to your goals?
Mahdi, recently promoted to Deputy Team leader, shares. “In order to reach my goal of becoming deputy team leader, I made sure to arrive early to work every day and maintain a good team spirit. I did my best to have a positive impact in the daily reports. Me and my colleague Rima, who was also promoted, studied a lot. It wasn’t easy with all the new material we had to learn, but we made it! So I’ve reached the first milestone in my career, and I'm still planning to become Site Supervisor in the future”.
Haneen definitely also feels closer to her initial goal. “The shift from clearing Improvised Explosive Devices to Cluster Submunitions as well as the use of the large loop, allowed us to clear land faster and gave us confidence in understanding mine action equipment. As a result, I now feel much more confident with my work and with conducting the LMAC accreditation tests”, she explains.
What are your future career plans?
“In a few years, NPA’s work will be finished in Lebanon, meaning we need to plan ahead. My plan is to progress further in my career and become a Site Supervisor”, Mahdi reinforces and continues, “If possible, I would also really like to work in Syria after the job is done in Lebanon. I wish to help the Syrians regain access to their land the same way we are helping the Lebanese here in Lebanon”.
“I would like to become a general surgeon in the future”, Haneen expresses. “A career in medicine has always been a dream of mine, and NPA is helping me pursue it by giving me the chance to take a Master’s degree in Nursing”, she finishes.
Both Mahdi and Haneen hope to continue their careers with NPA in order to reach their goals for the future.
The mountain range overlooking Arsal town 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.
Under a project partnership between NPA and MAG funded by the European Union’s IcSP from June 2019 to December 2020, six teams were deployed to clear contaminated land in the Arsal province. The teams cleared a total of 226,784 m2 of dangerous land which was released back to the community for safe use, ultimately benefitting more than 1,200 people directly and 250,000 people indirectly.
Article by Hala Amhaz, Mine Action Programme Officer & Cyril Bassil, Communications and Advocacy Coordinator with NPA Lebanon