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Strolling through the land of 11,100 victims of mines and explosive devices

Explosive weapons
Colombia

Jemerson, 12 years old, lives in Colombia in the town of Corinto, an area severely affected by the conflict which tore Colombia apart for fifty years. When he was 10 years old he lost his left hand after sustaining an injury from an antipersonnel landmine. Jemerson has been attending rehabilitation sessions with support from Handicap International. The child is hanging on and he still has hope.

© J.M. Vargas/Handicap International

Jemerson, 12, lost his left hand in 2014 after a mine left after the conflict which hit Colombia. | © J.M. Vargas/Handicap International

12 May 2015. Jemerson, 10 years old, left home with his cousins Julian and Mateo heading for ‘La Hacienda Ucrania’ in Corinto to pick mandarins.

"It was an accident. I saw a mine on the road, but I didn't know what it was. I picked it up with my right hand, then my left, and it exploded," Jemerson recalls.

Colombia has experienced 50 years of internal armed conflict, causing soil pollution in 31 of the country's 32 departments, including Cauca, where Corinto is located. Colombia is now the second most affected country after Afghanistan.

Jemerson was taken to Cali where he was immediately taken in charge. After having undergone several surgeries, Jemerson was sent to Popayán where he attended rehabilitation sessions. The following weeks were extremely painful, "This accident has scarred us all for life,” explains Viviana, Jemerson’s mother. Previously mobile, dynamic and passionate of football, he becomes angry, depressed and even sometimes aggressive.

“He had suicidal thoughts. He said he didn't want to live without his left hand.”

But Jemerson pulled through, he got his strength back and several months later started rehabilitation with Handicap International and received psychological support, "Lesly, the psychologist, was with us the whole way. She helped us immensely," Viviana reveals. Jemerson received a left hand prosthesis. Since 2017, he has been able to take part in painting and drawing sessions. He has not given up on his dream of becoming a footballer.

Handicap International in action

There were more than 11,000 mine and explosive remnants of war victims in Colombia between 1990 and February 2017. Handicap International, accredited in May 2016 as one of the official humanitarian demining actors in the country, is preparing to launch demining operations of polluted land over a period of five years in the departments of Meta, Cauca and Caquetá, particularly on indigenous territories. Handicap International will also provide support to mine victims in the six most contaminated departments, Antioquia, Cauca, Caquetá, Córdoba and Nariño and Meta.

Handicap International is developing a coherent and comprehensive approach to these demining activities. The association recruits and trains deminers and conducts pre-mine clearance investigations. The association also conducts awareness-raising sessions on the risks of mines in communities, supports victims and strengthens access to the world of work and education for people with disabilities.

"More than 90% of the time, we're on our knees. We know when it starts, but we do not know when it ends. Demining land can take months or years. I can’t describe the happiness inside when I finish clearing a mined area, "said Marta Quintero, mine clearance supervisor at Handicap International.

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