Nineteen students from around the world gathered at James Madison University in late September for an advanced course in clearing land mines and other weapons from post-conflict areas. WMRA’s Randi B. Hagi reports.
The Senior Managers Course began at JMU in 2004, when the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery, or CISR, won a contract from the United Nations Development Programme. When that contract expired in 2010, the U.S. State Department picked up sponsorship of the course. Since 2004, 300 senior managers from all over the world have attended.
SUZANNE FIEDERLEIN: They either work for their national mine action programs directly, so they’re with a governmental or quasi-governmental organization that is in charge of mine action for that country.
Suzanne Fiederlein is the associate director of CISR.
FIEDERLEIN: Or they’re with what we call an implementing partner … they work in partnership with the national governments in these various countries to help them remove land mines or cluster munitions or work on ammunition destruction and weapons stockpile destruction.
Four of the course participants gave presentations and answered questions about their home countries at JMU last Wednesday evening. One of the challenges that many of the senior managers face is that conflict is ongoing in their homeland.
Luc Sambou works across West Africa as the Armed Violence Reduction Coordinator for the organization Humanity and Inclusion. Sambou says they help local residents to find and disarm weapons, because the national governments may be unequipped to lend assistance.
LUC SAMBOU: Every time we finish a job in a locality we organize a ceremony to release the land, give instruction in case that this population found one dangerous item after our job, how to report it, and to keep getting contact with this population to know how they used this released land.
Sambou worked in music production for several years, but when a conflict recovery position opened up in his hometown in Senegal, he switched careers.
SAMBOU: It’s rewarding to see that life resuming in some community, in some locality, due to the job we have done there … and it’s a great moment of gratitude.
Many of these places are agricultural areas. So returning cleared land to local citizens is not just about physical safety, but also enabling local farmers to make a livelihood.
Tamana Ahmadzai is the Communication Officer for the Directorate of Mine Action and Coordination Center in Afghanistan. During her presentation, she showed a video clip from the Directorate, in which you can hear explosions and the sound of a mine detection device.
Ahmadzai’s job is most rewarding when she’s writing reports about land that’s newly-cleared of explosives.
TAMANA AHMADZAI: My operation team told me that ‘we cleared this province of Afghanistan!’ So now we are announcing the mine-free province. So, writing these words is, for me … it makes me excited.
Within the senior managers course, students can take a variety of sessions, from business management to lectures from European instructors about the residual work to neutralize weapons that are leftover from conflicts that took place decades earlier.
Hun Van Phan hails from such a place – Vietnam.
HUN VAN PHAN: Quang Tri was the most contaminated with land mines … since the wartime.
Phan is the Information Management Advisor and Database Unit Manager for the organization Norwegian People’s Aid in Vietnam. He was born and raised in the Quang Tri province, where they hope to be clear of leftover cluster munitions by 2025. Phan hopes that, then, his home will be recognized for more than just its legacy of war.
PHAN: Our province, yes, the people are so friendly ... I think that my province has a power to recover from the devastation of the war, and so during the wartime it was devastated, and it was totally destroyed, but now it looks different. I think that if the American veterans, they have a chance to visit Quang Tri, they will be surprised how it changed.
Phan, like many of the participants, heard about this course from colleagues who had taken it in the past. He’s hoping it will increase his effectiveness in the field of mine action.
PHAN: Now I’m a technical advisor, the information management advisor, I’m something like the local Vietnamese expert. So if I got through … this course, and then maybe it’s very good for the future, maybe I can have some kind of a management position in the future.