Digging up land mines isn’t just dangerous, it’s difficult. It involves long hours on your hands and knees, wearing heavy gear in the hot sun.
That’s why deminer training programs have to winnow out the weak. At the Halo Trust, a UK-based nongovernmental organization with demining programs in 17 countries,involves a month of hot, methodical training in a mock minefield.
In Angola, men have historically done land mine clearance, but Halo is trying something new: adding women to its demining effort. The aim is to diversify the NGO’s ranks, boost mine clearance, teach job skills to more women and attract donors. The plan is to eventually have 100 women working as deminers, medics, drivers and mechanics in Angola.
With the land mines still there, Angola can’t escape the shadow of its 27-year civil war. Land can’t be cultivated for crops. Houses can’t be built and villages can’t expand. And, an estimated 88,000 people have been victims of land mine accidents in the country. In late June,to witness the situation firsthand.
The first class of 20 women started training outside of Huambo, Angola’s second largest city, on June 5. The women spent weeks working their way through a field of head-high golden grass, excavating pieces of shrapnel and fuse-free mines and searching for mock tripwires.
At the end of their training, the women took both written and practical tests. And all 20 passed. In their second phase of training, the women spent a month clearing live minefields under heavy supervision. After that, they became full-time deminers in their home province of Benguela in eastern Angola.
This is a portrait gallery of that first class of women deminers.
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