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Kirkuk: Mine risk education for displaced children

Emergency Explosive weapons

For over a year, Handicap International’s teams have been providing displaced children in Iraqi schools with information on the risk of mines and other explosive weapons. More than 100,000 people have taken part in these activities since the launch of the organisation’s emergency response in Iraq.

 Girls take part in a mine risk education session at a school in the governorate of Kirkuk.

Girls take part in a mine risk education session at a school in the governorate of Kirkuk. | © E. Fourt / Handicap International

Today, Handicap International’s teams are visiting schools in the governorate of Kirkuk, Iraq. “There are lots of displaced people here,” explains Sarah, mine risk education project officer. “Many are from cities that are heavily contaminated by explosive remnants of war, like Hawiga and Ramadi. We need to tell people about the risks they’re likely to run into before they return home. We want them to know what to do when in presence of these weapons, and now is the best time to do it.”

The team visits all kinds of schools, from primary to secondary. “The mine risk education sessions with young children are usually the most effective,” explains Sarah. “The children are competitive and love to get involved. We can do more things with them, like games, to get our messages across.” There’s another advantage of doing mine risk education in schools: “When you talk to a group of children who are same age, you can adapt your message and the way you communicate it. In this group, everyone’s the same generation.”

Children are one of the main targets for the organisation’s awareness-raising activities. “They don’t think like adults. They’re really curious and don’t necessarily understand the dangers they’re exposed to. So they’re our top priority when it comes to risk education. Iraq is one of the most contaminated countries in the world and they need to know that,” adds the project officer.

To raise the awareness of as many displaced people as possible, the organisation’s professionals also go from door to door to provide the population with mine risk education.  “Sometimes, we talk to families whose children have already taken part in one of our sessions in a local school. The children usually take pride in showing their family that they already know about the risk of explosive weapons and can explain what to do when they come across them,” says Sarah. “We often ask them to take our place and to run the session with us. We check that they’ve understood our messages and correct anything they’re not sure about or have misunderstood. I feel so proud when a child can explain to his or her parents how to recognise a mine, missile or improvised explosive device and what to do to stay safe. For me, it shows how important these risk education sessions are.

After visiting two primary schools, Handicap International’s team ends the day with a session in a high school. Today, more than one hundred displaced children, aged 6 to 18, have been given information on the risk of mines and other explosive weapons. 

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