Nelly Bassily | March 10, 2008
Echa Byaombe spent almost a decade of her life in a Tanzanian refugee camp. The civil war in her native Democratic Republic of the Congo – formerly called Zaire –
tore her from the land she called home. While she lived through the hardships of refugee life, she was sustained by the dream of returning to her farm – to once again enjoy sunny mornings in fragrant fields.
In October 2007, it seemed like Mrs. Byaombe’s dream was about to become a reality. As peace returned to the DRC’s South Kivu province, she returned to her homeland as part of a large repatriation effort through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. After years of lying fallow, Mrs. Byaombe’s farm was in a much different condition than she remembered. But with hard work, she was able to control the weeds and re-establish maize and cassava crops.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Byaombe did not know about the greater threat that lay below the surface of her field. One day while tending to her crops, her left leg struck something hard. The next thing she remembered was waking up in a hospital bed. She had been wounded by a landmine and half of her left leg was gone.
Elisée Masakala is the wife of the medical director at the hospital in Fizi territory. In the months since refugees returned to their land, she has seen many people like Mrs. Byaombe who have lost limbs due to explosions in their fields.
DanChurchAid is a Danish NGO working to reduce the impact of landmines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It reports that more than 160 people in South Kivu province have been injured by landmines.
DanChurchAid is one of a small number of organizations that can safely remove landmines. As the work is both dangerous and very time-consuming, the organization focuses mostly on schools, clinics, and roads. Farms are not considered a high priority.
However, DanChurchAid is working to educate returning farmers and their families about the risk of landmines. It advises farmers that, before returning to their fields, they must find out if any part of their community is known to be affected by landmines. They must not touch unfamiliar metal objects. And if they suspect there may be landmines around, they must report their fears so that others in their area will know of the risk.
Farmers who find or suspect landmines in their fields often have to leave their farms and seek other employment until their land is made safe. This is the case with Mrs. Byaombe. No longer able to grow food for her family, Mrs. Byaombe has found a new dream. She hopes to secure a loan to start a small business.