The grisly sight of a boy treading on a land mine in Braachit in May was enough to make 12-year old Mohammed Bassam determined to become an expert on the deadly devices.
The experience pushed Bassam, a student from Ainata, to join the Mine Awareness Education workshop, which began Thursday at the Jamil Bazzi Public School in Bint Jbeil.
The workshop’s organizers include the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Save the Children Sweden, the National Demining Office and the Ministry of Education.
By the end of the workshop, Bassam will not have learned how to unearth mines, but he will have learned how to avoid them and help other children do the same.
The three-day workshop is aimed primarily at training educators and social workers in mine awareness. They in turn will then teach children the dangers of mines using a child-to-child approach.
This approach has yielded encouraging results in mine-afflicted countries such as Cambodia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen and northern Iraq, prompting workshop organizers to apply it in the former occupied zone.
Since Israel’s 22-year occupation of the South and Western Bekaa ended in May, there have been 75 land-mine accidents, 11 of them fatal and 20 of them involving children.
“Our aim is to make children aware of the dangers of mines through a non-traditional educational method,” said Hijazi Idriss, a UNESCO education-program specialist and workshop coordinator.
The majority of participants in the Bint Jbeil workshop were middle school teachers from 10 public schools in and around the town, many of whom have been active in health, environmental and civic education.
Also attending were social workers who received land-mine training from UNICEF and Balamand University’s Land Mine Resource Center, along with members of the Lebanese Red Cross and six middle-school students.
According to Ibrahim Bazzi, the Education Ministry’s representative in Bint Jbeil, Nabatieh and Marjayoun, up to 2,500 children are likely to benefit from the program in the long run. Fifty of the region’s schools have already been targeted for the program.
“If the workshop succeeds in making children spread the message of safety and behavior regarding mines, an additional 2,500 people, including the children’s parents and relatives, might also benefit,” said Bazzi.
But to succeed, mine awareness education programs must be continuous and include regular follow-up on the ground.
As it turns out, continuity and follow-up are an essential element of child-to-child learning.
“The problem that these mines pose won’t go away quickly. That’s why we encourage schools to set up long-term programs with mine awareness activities throughout the year,” said Christina Nelke, the Lebanon-based mine-awareness program officer for Save the Children Sweden.
The child-rights NGO has 15 offices worldwide.
In so doing, Nelke said, teachers should try to instill in their students with the feeling of involvement, ownership and responsibility for their own learning process.
Therefore, part of the workshop includes training teachers to help children learn how to conduct a survey about mine accidents and victims in their community. They are encouraged to discuss their findings in the classroom and decide how to minimize the risks of land mines. The children then put together an action plan and finally evaluate the success of their efforts.
Bassam remembers crying and “feeling a surge of bravery” when he saw the boy in Braachit trigger a mine. Now, Bassam has one thing in mind to save other children, including his two younger siblings from the terrible consequences of land mine accidents.
The National Demining Office is scheduled to field participants’ questions on the workshop’s final session Saturday. The
organization is involved in all mine awareness programs and has begun the arduous task of land-mine clearing.
Around every “Israeli” artillery position and outpost of
“Israel’s” now defunct South Lebanon Army militia lie acres of
ordnance waiting to explode. Children regularly play in the old
redoubts; at least 45 of these have minefields round them. More than
288 “Israeli” booby-traps – including bombs disguised as rocks
– lie undefused among the rocks and vegetation.
Are they inherently evil things, these lethal little creatures amid
the dark, beautiful hills? "All weapons are," Mr Lindstrom
says. Mr Macdonald is more philosophical. "In the hands of
someone in the military, used in a military sense, mapped and taken
away, that's one thing. It's the mines that are unmapped and left to
kill others. It's not the mine that's the problem. It's the people
who use them."