Angels learning to walk
Walking seemed to be something pretty normal for most of us. And it is. As children, we learned to walk and we discovered the world. We started our relationship with everything from outside our mother through our mouths. We wanted to eat everything as we did with our mothers’ breasts. We took all that we saw first to our mouth and from there, discovered the whole. We took our first steps after some months of crawling and not only did we lose weight as babies, but we lost connection with a small world which expanded as we took new steps. Every day we conquered the world. Everyday as we grew, we found new spaces which took us in to new experiences in our life. As we walked, we went into every direction we wanted to go and we also learned to run as if something or someone was after us. Something bigger than us, something stronger. And it is true. Not for all but for many.
Walking through our mountains here in my country Colombia can not only be the most exciting experience, but also the most dangerous. Divided into three geographic corridors by the Andes Mountains, Colombia is an amazing country with more than 1,141,748 km2 full of endemic species and different type of ecosystems. The people are 50% mestiza, 20% European white descendants, 14% mulattos and 16% African descendants. We have learned to live under extreme conditions in many ways since we were conquered, but now we are living overexposed to the most extreme as our geographical, social, political and economic conditions put such difficult pressure on all our people but mainly for our future: on children.
Our country is mainly rural. More than 80% of our land is hidden in between amazing forest of many types. Cloud or rainforests where kids never thought to find anything different than exotic animals or abandoned tin cans to play with. But today, they find more than that. As they walk trying to discover world, they find death. As they grow up trying to survive, they become mutilated by an invention we never wish to encounter in our whole life, in any place, in any land: a landmine.
In 2009, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor identified 674 casualties in Colombia from explosive devices, all of which were recorded by the Presidential Program for Mine Action (Programa Presidencial para la Acción Integral contra Minas Antipersonal, PAICMA) as having been caused by antipersonnel mines.1
Civilian casualties (232) made up 34% of the total, similar to 35% in 2008. There were 442 military casualties.2
Of civilian casualties, 21% (49) were children (41 boys and 8 girls), up from 17% in 2008.3
Men made up 93%, or 170, of the 183 adult civilian casualties, and 97% (653) of all casualties were male.
Nearly one-third (52 of 183) of the adult civilian casualties were manual coca eradicators, employed by the Program for the Eradication of Illicit Cultivation (Programa para la Erradicación de Cultivos Ilícitos, PCI).4
While this is a reduction from the 76 coca eradicator casualties registered in 2008, this was an increase as a proportion of total casualties.5
Since 2008, coca eradicator casualties have occurred in 12 municipalities and in seven of these, they made up between 75% and 100% of all recorded civilian casualties.6
In 2009, casualties were recorded in 23 of Colombia’s 32 regions; however, 57% of all casualties occurred in just four regions: Antioquia (166), Caquetá (78), Nariño (73), and Meta (69).
I live by Antioquia where rural life can be frightening. I have been exposed to different difficult situations such as walking for two days in a minefield while I was doing an education project. I entered walking and I came out almost dying in tears. Nothing happened to me, but it did to many people in that area for so many years that I can barely understand. How does this happen? Why? But I never get an appropiate answer. There is none for such a crime and never will be.
Thousands of dollars go to NGOs working on landmines but the problem will remain as long as our population does not have the right education to believe there is opportunity for them. Guerrilla and antiguerrilla groups are growing as peasants are getting poorer every day and are being captured by them to work just even for food.
There are not equal opportunities in rural areas and we are being displaced to cities where life is unsustainable. There are not landmines in the cities, but government is such a tricky and complex institution that it is also mutilating our people and leaving our children disabled forever. A dangerous vicious circle which is destroying us from inside out as we do not know who the enemy is. Who is planting those landmines? Why? How come? I am still asking myself the same question since I walked through those lands but mainly since I met those kids, those men, those women whose families get destroyed with no hope or help. Kids going to school never find their way to learn as someone put a trap under their dreams.
Kids like José who said to his sister after he heard a bang: "Run, Clara, run." Clara was 6 years old. And she said "I cannot, I cannot. I do not know why... but my leg is behind me." She never spoke again. She never played with a new doll. Her mother never saw her again alive. Her brother never saw her or anything as he went blind after the explotion.
Eduardo remembered going out with his friends after some cows during the night. They wanted to play, they were just kids. And he remembers he saw an amazing and brilliant light after he opened an old door. Everything went white and then black. Four of his five friends were dead. And he is still recovering from that day. He speaks slowly when he rememebers his accident. He doesn´t laugh much. But his eyes sometimes shine as a beautiful star.
Maria doesn´t remember what happened. But every day she passes by that statue by the river, she knows that day was her worst day. Her friend was killed there by a landmine while she was by the other side of the river.
Juan Carlos, 16 years old, today has a prosthesis donated by a Denmark company but he wishes Santa had given him a new bicycle that Christmas.
It is not fair. It is not. Equity should be the most important principle in our planet and in fact it is inequality which is ruling our world. Some have food and warm beds while many do not. Some have jobs and wealthy bank accounts while many are slaves and living under extreme poverty. Some walk enjoying the beauty of the rain while many die under the rain, leaving their legs behind them. Some go to fancy schools in fancy cars while many never have the chance to have a pencil in their hands or even a toy car. As we say in Colombia, some people were born having a star as many were born crashed by the stars. And to me this does not seem to be right. It is not just unfair but unethical.
We are overwhelmed, but organizations which should be doing their work do not. Thousands of organizations all over the world get thousands of billions of dollars to work for all of us. And they do not as they get entangled in their own bureaucracy. We build this patethic system which is not allowing our children to be the people for our future. If we do not change this system we are also responsible for this kids being killed going to school.
We are not doing our part as we allow our countries to grow without appropiate communities for the generations to come. We are becoming an insensitive species which may become extinct soon as we kill our people in many ways. We create wars as an industry. We pollute water as this is a business. We destroy rainforest as this gets rich people more money into their accounts. We kill animals for sport. We take from our land oil to build new countries by the sea with strange forms. We take green stones or transparent ones to wear them on our fingers giving us a strange power. The power of death. We send our men to fight in stupid wars invented by others at their desks. We rape our women and our children and then silence them for ever.
We forgot how to live as we did in the caves. We got completely disconnected from our own nature and we got lost in our own misery. We invented gadgets which by now instead of getting us closer are moving us away. Technology is giving us much but is taking everything, taking our inner connections. We cannot build a society which is inventing gadgets for war. There is no excuse. These gadgets are killing our kids and we are not seeing. We want to blame others but I can not see any other closer than my own inoperative government doing nothing but lying to us.
Life is short. I have learned that after having a car accident three weeks ago. But it cannot be so short that we do not to do anything about injustice, inequality, poverty or lands sown with hate and horror. Life is a gift. One to be delivered everywhere. Material things are just that. Things. But life is a gift no one should take from others. Life is that miracle we can not explain as we see our own sons and daughters, looking deep into our eyes as we breastfeed them, help them to crawl and then to walk into life. Life should be more than survival for many as some have more than enough. Life is that unexpected miracle we can not even understand and we sometimes underestimate, taking most of our days for granted.
While you are reading this article just remember that 3 people in Colombia might have stepped on a landmine. And one, two or even three people behind this statistic could be kids going to school. The problem is that nobody told them that we invented such a weapon planted to killed someone else’s dreams. We will have to tell our kids the truth to empower them to rebuild what we have destroyed. We will have to look at them into their eyes to let them know how bad we have behaved over the last centuries. Then we can empower them to believe they have a chance to be a new human race where they can walk free without fears or nervousness about their steps on this planet. We will have to learn many things first to teach again our children about freedom, reciprocity, respect, love, hope, ethics and mainly about illusions.
We live basically by the idea that we are free. We carry that illusion since childhood and we can not lose the power we get knowing we are a free species. Governments should know that. Democracy is the only option we have to be able to find the lost way for us and for our children. They are our future and the future is now. Sustainable development is the key. But not the one that we’re trying to find in meetings like the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg where nothing was sustainable. We have to be first locally sustainable before having global meetings to have something to share - instead of paying to attend another international meeting that tells us everything is still the same.
We must face the truth and stop lying to ourselves about the future we believe we might have. Because there is no hope if we do not have compassion for others not just in the critical situations but everyday. Japan has been moving everyday a little bit, Libya has had its dictator for many years and we wait until the last moment to act. To speak, to write, to let the others know we cannot continue being this species we are now.
Night goes on and tomorrow will be another day everywhere. Another landmine will silence someone’s dreams or like Clara, their legs will be behind them forever. Tomorrow I will walk again in one of the most landmine-ridden places in my country and in my region where I find new people to talk to. But as I see those mountains I walked through from the distance, I cannot resist the fact that many kids are walking to their homes, to their schools over those green lands that seemed to me as the most dangerous red carpet anyone can ever see.
Life is short. But we have to live it in a valuable way for what we believe in. I believe Juan Carlos, José, Clara and many more kids in my country and other countries of the only planet we might have for this moment, could go to school without traps in their roads, without traps in their lives, without traps trapping them forever in their lifes. Instead, a circle of life. A pure one.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.
1 In previous years, PAICMA recorded casualties caused by ERW though, since 1990, most device types have been recorded as antipersonnel mines. This can be explained by the fact that all explosives that are victim-activated and can be triggered by an individual are referred to as antipersonnel mines in Colombia. Many of these could also be considered improvised explosive devices that are designed to act as antipersonnel mines. Most sources that collect casualty data are not trained to distinguish antipersonnel mines from ERW. Interview with Andrés Dávila Ladrón de Guevara, Director, PAICMA, Bogotá, 12 April 2010; and interview with Ana María Hernández Montoya, Deputy, Department Against Arms Contamination, and Stéphane Jacquier, Deputy Head of Delegation, ICRC, Bogotá, 13 April 2010.
2 There were 442 military casualties, 67 of whom were killed and 375 injured. PAICMA did not identify any casualties among non-state armed groups.
3 Ulrich Tietze, “Anti Landmine Action Concept–Data Analysis, IMSMA 2008–2009 to identify ideas for focusing PAICMA’s work in 2010–2014,” Bogotá, 22February 2010.
4 Email from Alejandro Espitia, Advisor, PAICMA, 22 February 2010.
5 Interview with Andrés Dávila Ladrón de Guevara, PAICMA, Bogotá, 12 April 2010.
6 Ulrich Tietze, “Anti Landmine Action Concept–Data Analysis, IMSMA 2008–2009 to identify ideas for focusing PAICMA’s work in 2010–2014,” Bogotá, 22February 2010. The six municipalities with the highest rates were: Puerto Asís, Valle de Guamez, Tarazá, Anorí, Puerto Libertador, and Tibú.