Elisabeth, HI community liaison agent and deminer in Casamance, Senegal | © A. Sawadogo / HI
Elisabeth, community liaison agent, intervenes before, during and after the work of the demining teams. Her role is essential to ensuring the security of operations and the trust of the community. Here is her testimony on the occasion of the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on 4 April.
Élisabeth Léna Ndeye Sambou has been working with HI in humanitarian demining since 2007. As a deminer and community liaison agent, she is proud of her work that enables people to reclaim their land and resume their lives that had been disrupted by conflict.
Elisabeth's job is to support the demining team in the field. Before clearance operations begin, she prepares the community for the arrival of HI’s teams. Her role is to inform communities about demining and explain how the operations will be run. During the operations, she keeps the population informed of progress and establish a climate of confidence, calm and security.
After the clearance operations, Elisabeth stays in contact with the communities to ensure that they regain possession of their land. Often, to allay any last fears that the communities may have, the HI teams organise a football match on the land they have demined or drive their vehicles along the newly cleared tracks.
"It is the communities that motivate me. Every time the team removes a mine, it gives me new strength and I’m even more motivated. So every morning I wake up with the same joy for the new day. For me, it's really a wonderful job," says Elisabeth.
In May 2022, HI launched new mine clearance operations in Casamance, Senegal. As part of these operations, Elisabeth worked in Bissine, a village near the border with Guinea-Bissau. At one time, Bissine was a prosperous village where the community could support itself with its rice production and fruit trees. But in the 1990s, the area became the theatre of violent fighting between the Senegalese army, which occupied the village, and the Casamance independence movement, holed up in the surrounding forests.
The fighting caused accidents and claimed a number of lives. Reluctantly, the people fled the village and scattered across the sub-region, but they never lost hope of returning home one day. However, it was not until 2021, almost thirty years later, that they were able to return to their village.
But the conflict had left behind a deadly legacy. One day, children were out collecting scrap metal to sell when they came across a large piece of iron in the ground. They tried to pull it out, but it was too deeply embedded. They ran to fetch some adults from the village to show them what they had found: it was actually a rocket.
“After this discovery, HI was brought in to clear the area. Since July 2022, we have cleared over 61,000 square metres of land. During the operations, the deminers found two 120 mm mortar shells. Today, the villagers are very happy. They even tell us that we are now part of their community. Thanks to our work, they have been reassured and can go wherever they want. Demining has contributed to the development of the village.”
The demining process freed up farmland and cleared paths leading to rice fields, drinking water and schools. Thanks to the work done by HI's team, the villagers can now go about their business in safety and life in the village can go back to normal.
“Many villages were abandoned because the population didn’t feel safe there. To feel at home, you have to be free to do what you want, to go where you want. By clearing these spaces, we are removing a thorn from the side of the communities and participating in the reconstruction and return to peace," says Elisabeth, happily.
HI’s demining operations in Casamance have been made possible thanks to European Union funding.