Saranda Kastrati was 21 years old when she began working as a deminer for the NPA Mine Action Programme in Kosovo. She worked in the first female demining team in the Balkans from November 1999 to May 2000 when she was injured in a demining accident. As a result her foot had to be amputated. After her accident in May 2000 she spent several weeks at the KFOR Italian hospital in Kosovo. Then in August 2000 she went to Linköping in Sweden where she got her first prosthesis fitted.
Already in October 2000, following medical treatment, Saranda returned to NPA and joined its mine risk education and community liaison team. As a member of the team, she became responsible for informing local residents of NPA's demining activities and for providing mine risk education. After NPA had closed down the Programme in Kosovo in 2001, Saranda started working for the British NGO Mines Awareness Trust (MAT) conducting community liaison and mine risk education for the local population. She is still employed by MAT.
The Regional Representative of NPA in southeast Europe, Emil Jeremic, and the Deputy Programme Manager of NPA Mine Action Programme Croatia, Vanja Sikirica, visited Saranda at the Ljubljana Institute for Rehabilitation in February. Saranda got a new prosthesis fitted and had to spend two weeks in the Institute for Rehabilitation in order to properly adapt the prosthesis to Saranda's needs.
"I don't want to have problems with my prosthesis in Kosovo. It is better to solve everything here" Saranda says, adding that she could have had the prosthesis made in Kosovo but that the quality of locally made prostheses is not as good as those made in Slovenia or in Sweden. The prosthesis she got in Ljubljana is more sophisticated and more suited to her body than her last one. Saranda is joking: "For the first time in seven years I can wear high heels!"
"When I had my accident, I was fully conscious the whole time, and I was calm." She thinks she was calm because she was "not a child any more". Her rare psychological strength was noticed by experts. "A psychologist visited me several times and then he finally said: You don't need me, you are OK". After her accident Saranda got involved in land-mine survivor psycho-social assistance which was mainly focused at deminers suffering accidents during clearance operations. As such, Saranda helped others with a similar fate, facing the psychological stress and trying to cope with the trauma associated with losing a limb. By showing others that she could cope with her fate, other mine survivors saw that a life with an artificial limb is not necessarily the end of the world.
Saranda started working as a deminer six months before she had the accident. "I am from Pec. I started working several months after the war ended in 1999. I have seven sisters, my father was old, he could not work any more so I took the job as a deminer, and so did one of my sisters".
Some of the female deminers in her team were only in their early twenties and some were in their forties, but Saranda says they all enjoyed their job. "It was after the war, employment was important for us, and the salary was good. There were fifty of us, we had great time and we loved our job".
The team does not exist any more, the demining in Kosovo is currently carried out by the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC-TMK). Saranda's sister who also worked as a deminer is now married. "Her demining days are over". Saranda and another sister still live with their father.
She has a contract with MAT until October 2007. "I do community liaison. I talk to the local population, tell them about the mine threat and inform them about demining activities that are taking place in the area where they live."
"MAT has one survey team consisting of six deminers. If they find a mine, KPC conducts demining and EOD", Saranda says.
She would like to continue working, and not only in Kosovo. "I could go abroad. I do not want to sit at home and do nothing. My father's pension is 40 euro a month. Saranda quotes her father: "I worked for 40 years and now I get 40 euro a month - one euro for each year I worked".
The fact that Saranda went back to work for NPA after only a few months of rehabilitation is a testimony of her courage and commitment. Now at MAT, she continues to provide mine risk education for the population in Kosovo. Saranda's strength and determination is best illustrated by her own statement: "I do not want to sit at home and do nothing!"