|A “Go” for Community Liaison and MRE in Sri Lanka|
“What do you do if you kick a ball into a mined area or find a suspicious object?” These and other similar, life saving questions were posed to the children of Parappankandal Sirikulam village of Northern Sri Lanka last week during a Mine Risk Education session run by FSD. This AusAID sponsored initiative is designed to support communities that return to post conflict areas in the north where the threat of mine and UXO accidents still exist despite the extensive clearance that has taken place across the region. “Our job is to save people's lives” says Nigel Robinson, Programme Manager for FSD in Sri Lanka “and our Community Liaison Teams have a vital role in protecting the most vulnerable people.”
The school at Parappankandal Sirikulam opened in January after FSD demining teams cleared the village of landmines and UXO. The area had seen intense fighting during the recent phase of conflict and the levels of contamination were therefore high, particularly around houses and community infrastructure. Today 95 boys and 73 girls have been able to resume their studies and the subject of landmines is an important part of the curriculum for these students for whom this is the only school in the area. 15 teachers already work here.
FSD's Community Liaison Teams were formed to address a distinct need in Sri Lanka. Two teams focus their efforts on areas where demining has taken place and where the most at risk of the 285,000 returning IDPs are located. “It is not just about eduction, it is about finding out what behaviors put our communities at risk” says Ali Marc Wazne, MRE specialist for FSD. “If people are pushing through fences into mined areas to collect firewood for cooking then let's understand the issue and help find a solution. Maybe we organise wood from a safe area and solve the problem that way,” he adds.
UNICEF reports that since the beginning of 2010 only four mine accidents have resulted from people coming into contact with explosive devices – A testament to the hard work of the Sri Lankan Army and the demining NGOs who clear the land and to the work of the Community Liaison teams for whom the work is personal. “We have established a 'hotline' so that anyone from the community can contact us and the telephone number is shown on the safety posters that are now displayed in prominent places around the town. “ said Harshi Gunawardana, Desk Officer for the project. The posters will help people become more informed and remind them of the potential threat to their lives.
Proving that information is a 'two way street', one of the students raised his hand during the MRE presentation and told the FSD team that an item of UXO was buried near his home. After the session, FSD dispatched an EOD team to the house and removed the item, in this case the remnants of a mortar shell. Also, FSD conducted an emergency MRE programme gathering the residents of that housing area to raise awareness of the dangers of mines and UXOs among the household. Step by step, community by community, FSD strives to make a difference to those most in need.