Fawzia Mahmoud Saeed is driven by a desire to help those most at risk from landmines and unexploded ordnance – and to contribute to a better future for women and children in eastern Sudan.
The state of Kassala, on the border with Eritrea, is severely affected by mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO), a legacy of nearly 20 consecutive years of conflict. The threat to the population is a very real one: between February and May 2011, MAG teams discovered 132 new Dangerous Areas in Kassala alone.
Twenty-eight year old Fawzia, from Kassala town, is one of those trying to make a difference.
Fawzia is a MAG Community Liaison Officer, delivering safety messages to those forced to live with the threat posed by deadly remnants of conflict in places such as Hamesh Korieb.
An extremely closed community, the village of Hamesh Korieb segregates women and men by a wall, women living on one side and men on the other.
Women are not allowed any form of education and are isolated not only from men, but also from others outside the community.
“It is a great challenge to work in a community like Hamesh Korieb,” says Fawzia. “When I first came here, I faced many problems. The community doesn’t allow you to do anything with the women, because sometimes they think that you will teach the women something that is not good for them. Even the women, if they don’t know what you are going to do and how you are going to help them, they will not listen to you.
“The first thing I had to do was to change the idea that people had about me. I volunteered in the village to work with the religious families, and when the community saw me working with those ladies they helped me and came to accept me more.
“Now the people see me differently and they accept me like a part of the family. I can go to the women’s side of the village. And now that I am known by all the women I can change their behaviour.
“Previously, when the women went to collect firewood or to fetch water, they removed UXO themselves without knowing the dangers. Now they listen to what I say and they know what the procedures are.
“They don’t remove dangerous items and they know that they must inform the chief or someone else if they find something. They never did that before.”
Spreading such safety messages is, along with removing the threat, a key part of MAG’s work. Fawzia explains: “We work in two ways: Mine Risk Education and clearing land. Through our Risk Education we can keep the people safe by helping them avoid dangerous areas. And by demining, we can help the people by opening up safe land.”
Investing in Sudan's future
Increasing the availability of land is crucial to the future of Sudan: “If there are mines, there is not development for the villages, and if there is not development for the villages there is not development for the country.”
“Because MAG is clearing roads and villages, other organisations are coming to the area to help those communities and to develop them. If there was no MAG, no organisations would come.
MAG also maximises the longer-term impact of our work by employing and training staff from the areas in which we work, improving the skills and broadening the experience of the workforce.
In many of these areas, women have few other opportunities to generate income for their families, and Fawzia’s path is not a usual one for women in eastern Sudan.
Encouraged by her family to go to university, despite society not normally permitting women to get a higher education, she left her hometown of Kassala in order to study at Afad University for Women in Khartoum.
“From the time I was university, I decided I wanted to work with communities and especially with women and children, because in eastern Sudan the women do not have the possibility to learn, to do anything. And many children do not have the chance to learn either.”
Following a period volunteering with JASMAR, a Sudanese non-governmental organisation working with issues related to human security, Fawzia was employed with MAG 10 months ago.
“At first, many people when they saw me said, ‘Oh, a lady working in mine action’. They thought this was something very dangerous for me, but I think it is a step forward.
“I feel a special feeling, different then other women, because I have a job and I am more independent and responsible for myself. I feel like I have changed the rules and regulations in the society, and that makes me feel better and better every day.
“My father is ill with diabetes. My brothers and sisters and I work, so we told my father to stop working and we will look after the family. That makes me feel very good. Even after I marry, I want to continue. It is hard to be a wife, a mother and to have a job at the same time, especially in Sudan’s society, but I will try. I think I can do this.
“If I can change the situation for the women in Hamesh Korieb only a little bit, this will give me motivation and strength to keep working here. If I can work well here, than really I can work anywhere.”
The work in this article was funded by: European Commission - Humanitarian Aid & Civil Protection (ECHO); GOAL; United States Agency for International Development (USAID).