Kibodi village is situated a few kilometres south of Wudu in Kajo Keji county, south Sudan near the border of Uganda. It is a beautiful area; lightly forested, rolling hills and very fertile soil. Wudu was a major base for government troops and the scars of war are abundantly evident in the area. Destroyed vehicles, trench lines and military positions are still visible. There are also a number of known minefields in and around the town. The road south to Moyo and the Ugandan border was the point from where most of the SPLA rebel attacks came. The area today is heavily mined with anti-tank and anti-personnel mines; blown carcasses of vehicles lie on the roadsides in testimony to the fierce fighting.
Clan chief 'curses' landmines so MAG's staff can work in safety
The area around Kibodi village in Kajo Keji is the traditional homeland of the Candeba clan. Before the war about 200 families lived here. Most are still in refugee camps in Uganda and are planning to return home by the end of 2005.
Paul Ganga doesn't know how old he is and is chief of the clan. He said: "I was called here from Uganda in 1997 as soon as the SPLA had taken the area."
"The soldiers told me that there was a problem - there were lots of mines. So I cursed the mines." He added: "I can do that because I am the chief."
He said: "It has worked because only three cows have been blown up and when my people are cultivating the land they keep finding mines but no one has been killed. I will do another curse to protect your [MAG's] staff so that they don't get hurt too."
Ganga also explained that about 100 families have returned so far, most of them in the last few months. Currently at least seven of the families are living in known mined areas. As more families return, more will settle on dangerous ground.
Subsistence farmers who can't grow crops
Enoch Lobya arrived earlier this year in March, he said: "We came back because the rainy season is starting and it is time to plant crops. We need to grow lots so that our brothers will have food when they come back later this year - otherwise we will all starve."
He added: "Also there are rebels in Uganda - some families have come back early because they have been attacked and lost everything."
Lobya said he has built a house and cultivated about 300 sq/m of land. "Four days ago," he said, "I found two mines when I was digging. I am very frightened. I don't want to dig anymore. My brother next door has found 34."
"Many people are going to come here. They have heard about this in the camps and they are in panic. We knew the sides of the road were mined but not up here. Now we find out that mines are everywhere." To add to their plight aid agencies find it very difficult to get projects off the ground where logistics are the biggest stumbling block; a Swedish organisation was due to drill a well for Lobya and his neighbours but it failed so now the returnees have to travel more than a kilometre for water.
Lobya said: "It is too late; we have to stay here now. We have planted a lot of our crops, mostly cassava, and this is our home. I was born here."
People here are all subsistence farmers. They have arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a few cooking pots. The traditional houses are made from sticks and mud with a thatched roof and take only a few days to build. Every one is very poor and the children all have swollen, protruding bellies suggesting malnourishment and worms.
A mother - losing livestock to mines and the need to feed her family
Joyce Doku lives nearby and also arrived in March with her mother and five children. She said: "We thought we could plant our crops in time for the season but the mines have stopped us. Two cows were blown up. How can we dig? So we make charcoal and sell it to survive but even that is dangerous. We can't get to the best trees on the hill, there are mines there - we have seen some. I am afraid for my children - the mines are very attractive and they might play with them. Our neighbour has found mines digging. He was lucky he didn't hit them. What can we do? My grandfather is buried here. This is my home."
MAG's teams getting to the heart of the problem
MAG's community liaison team, funded by the US State Department's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement [http://www.state.gov/t/pm/wra/], has been to the village to give much-needed Mine Risk Education (MRE) and to gather information on the scale and impact of the mine and UXO problem. Getting right to the heart of the problem, a map was produced with the villagers and 'dangerous area' reports were completed. This will help the MAG technical teams prioritise clearance as they become operational.
Doku said: "We are happy that the team has come here to teach our children about these bad things in the ground. I think it will help all of us but we need to grow food and so many people will come soon to build their houses. There is nowhere else for them to go."
Doku and her neighbours never request money or demand items from frequent and much wealthier visitors. She simply said: "Please clear the mines or we will be blown up like the cattle over there."
Once they have their land they won't starve MAG spoke to many farmers, mothers and children who pleaded not for material goods but for assistance to get the mines removed. Once they have their land they won't starve.
Two small MAG teams will soon be operating in the area focusing on small emergency tasks and funded from UNHCR, but MAG could do so much more.
A much larger area clearance capacity is needed here and this is not by any means the only priority in the area. More resources are urgently required. Please help MAG where you can.
If you wish to donate to MAG at a time when all eyes are on Africa please go straight to our secure donations page: https://secure.silkmoth.net/mag/mag-donation.asp.
MAG has a small HQ in Manchester of just 25 people - this means the majority of MAG's funds go towards our field operations. We have more than 2000 staff around the world providing Humanitarian Mine Action to some of the poorest countries. It means MAG goes right to the heart of the problem and physically clears dangerous land to make it safe for people once more.