(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Elisabeth Sambou, "My motivation is freeing up the land for the people"

A member of Handicap International's demining team in Casamance, southern Senegal. September 2009
Nancy Palus/IRIN

Elisabeth Sambou works with a Handicap International team that sets out out every weekday at dawn in Senegal’s Casamance region to scour the lush land for mines. The demining team members put on vinyl-kneed trousers, a 4-kilogram protective vest and a helmet with a face shield.

They start by testing their equipment, and then they painstakingly go about clearing foliage and scanning the land for signs of the deadly weapons, which since the 1990s have killed and injured at least 748 people; mine contamination continues to block access to thousands of hectares of land in what are mostly farming communities.

“I am really eager to see peace return to Casamance for good. Because the population has suffered for years. When I heard about the job openings with the demining team, I said, why not? Not even really knowing what demining was all about. But I told myself, if there are people living in Casamance who want to resume their livelihoods [and this could help them], I said why not go and help.

“When I started going into the field I felt confident because of the training we received; we know what precautions to take, where to go and not to go.

“I think of the people who over the years have stepped on mines and lost limbs. It sickens me to think about it. Even if they go on living, something is diminished. When I think of these people who have suffered all these years, this is what gives me the strength and morale every day to get up and go to work.

“When we free up land for the people, it brings joy to my heart. The day we destroyed the mines we had found in Dar Salaam [a village in Casamance] it was quite moving. I cried tears of joy. I thought to myself – that explosive was going to strike a person, or several people. So I thank God every day I have the strength and ability to come and do this work.

“My motivation is freeing up the land for the people. Because not everyone can go to [the capital] Dakar and work in offices. There are those who make their living from the land.”


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