Schools reborn on former minefields

from Mines Advisory Group
Published on 11 Jan 2013 View Original

MAG's work in the war-torn region of Puthukudiyiruppu in northern Sri Lanka has helped hundreds of children get back to school.

"When you took those mines out of the ground, our children were able to come back," said Anton Kulathas, the principal of Puthukudiyiruppu Roman Catholic School. “They have happily restarted their new school lives in peace.”

In total, 279 landmines and nearly 500 other dangerous remnants of conflict were removed from the school and its grounds during 2012, each of which could have cost lives or limbs.

Located in Puthukudiyiruppu East village and renowned throughout the district of Mullaitaivu, the school educated around 600 students prior to the conflict that ravaged the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. But fighting forced villagers to leave the area in 2009, many fleeing south to the huge Menik Farm camp for internally displaced people.

Minefield identified

MAG was the first international agency active in the Puthukudiyiruppu DS Division following the end of the conflict, our Community Liaison teams surveying an area of almost 12 million m2.

During this process, they identified more than 1.1 million m2 of land in and around the school that was heavily contaminated by landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). During clearance work from March to September 2012, 276 anti-personnel mines, three anti-tank mines and 477 items of UXO were removed.

Not only has this life-saving intervention given safe access to the school, it has also enabled other developmental agencies to work in the area.

On top of landmine and UXO clearance, MAG also conducted four community safety briefings and 120 house-to-house briefings in order to maintain safety and minimise risk to children in mine-affected areas.

Though the school’s buildings are still damaged and facilities limited, the 266 boys and girls now studying here are glad to be back. “We do not have chairs, tables and desks,” one told us, “but my friends and I are happy to be able to study in our own school.”

And Anton Kulathas, the Principal, anticipates that because of the now safe access, the school will receive much-needed assistance to bring it back up to its former status. "We are thankful to MAG,” he said. “Even though we have limited facilities, we are very happy.”

Enabling safe education

It is a similar story at the nearby Sinnapokkal preschool, which, along with several houses, was identified by MAG following the conflict to be within a minefield.

During clearance, our teams safely removed 112 anti-personnel mines, two anti-tank mines and 147 items of UXO.

"Preschool is an important part of children’s development, and we are indebted to MAG for the service it has offered our future generation,” said the Principal, Mary Vijitha.

“Not only can these youngsters return home, but they are able to resume schooling. Save the Children is going to help us rebuild the school, and I am very happy for these children, who have their whole lives ahead of them. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. God bless you."

As a result of MAG’s work, 1,054 people were able to resettle in the area in August 2012.