Pickaxe and elbow grease peace

Minefield warning on the Golan Heights, still ...

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One of the overarching characteristics of JMU students is their preponderance to wrestle multiple jobs, hobbies, courses, majors and sometimes, internships.  That’s the case for my intern, Tyler McAvoy (’12), an English major. In addition to interning in the Be the Change office this year, Tyler did a stint as an intern in the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery, an information clearinghouse and training center dedicated to the elimination of landmines throughout the world.

Recently, Tyler sat down to write about a few things he’s learned during his internship …

Here at Be the Change, we stress that every student who comes through JMU has the potential to, “Be the change in the world that they want to see.” Dukes all around the world have answered this call and are actively changing the world for the better, often placing themselves at risk to help a stranger in a foreign land.

The people at the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery constantly put themselves in locations that would be considered perilous by the rest of the world. Jordan. Algeria. Sudan. South America.  These places offer some of the most hostile environments and situations in the world, yet the people at CISR forge ahead, regularly making trips to help train government officials and non-governmental agents on proper ways to recover after a violent conflict.

CISR was established through JMU years ago after the need arose for a database on land mines and unexploded ordinance (UXO).  Using a grant from the U.S. State Department, CISR (or the Mine Action Information Center as it used to be called back in those days) quickly became not just the national, but the global center for humanitarian demining, regularly researching new methods and technologies for safely removing cluster bombs and landmines from towns and villages around the world.  Working with various demining groups around the world, CISR established a network of brave men and women, and began training the administrators of these groups here at JMU.  This course, called the Senior Managers Course (SMC) provides demonstrations and training on the latest techniques of mine action. This year’s  year’s course ended a few weeks ago.

One of the many hats I wore was editor’s assistant at CISR, for which I edited copy for the Journal for Mine Action, CISR’s semiquarterly publication. My job was much less glamorous than it sounds, generally editing copy and the likes for articles written by foreign authors. But while SMC was in session, I was provided the opportunity to stretch my journalistic legs a little when I got the chance to interview two individuals from Sudan, one from the North and one from the South, both high ranking officers in their respective demining organizations.

If any of you have kept up with global affairs in the past 20 years, you’ll know that the northern and southern regions of Sudan have been embroiled in one of the longest civil wars in Africa’s history.  On July 9th, the South plans to officially separate from the North, and though this is supposed to be a peaceful separation, all indications show that it probably will not be.  So many years of war don’t go away with a few peace agreements and international pressure by the U.N. and the United States. All indicators point to such a wide gap in relations between the North and South that war in the future is highly likely. At least, that’s what the media would like you to believe.

See, when I talked to the officials from the North and South, who, I must add, are friends and get along extremely well, a much different picture was painted for me.  They explained that though the government of Sudan and the people of Sudan are fighting with each other, the one place that the two nations get along is in the shared mission of demining. The North and South send demining officers from both sides to create joint demining task forces, and both sides say that regardless of what happens in the future between the two nations, these forces will continue to work together to rid the landscape of landmines and pieces of UXO.  Regardless of the economy, of the oil, of the differences in religion and race, safely securing land is one of the few things that both the North and South agree upon, and some say, is the one thing that got them to sign a peace agreement after 22 years of a bloody war in the first place.

They can put aside these differences and work together over a single mutual goal.  They can come to peace and begin to accept each other over this shared problem, and though there is little attention from this goal globally, the point is clear: Demining — besides saving lives, opening up farm land for agriculture, clearing roads and transportation routes, helping victims of landmines and making the landscape as safe as it is beautiful — has brought these two warring factions together in some small way. Maybe this will lead to a lasting peace, and maybe it won’t. Yet, the possibility is still there and even though it’s a small glimmer of light, the point is, there’s still something shining at the end of the tunnel.

I’m not presuming that CISR or anyone at JMU had direct involvement in this, but I am suggesting that its not always the heavily litigated peace treaty or military involvement that can secure peace. Sometimes, it just takes a few very dedicated individuals working in a small-scale organization to change the fate of entire nations.  You don’t always need huge diplomatic machines to move political mountains; sometimes you just need a pickaxe and some elbow grease.

I hope this can encourage any of you who feel like you’ll never make a difference in the world. The world can seem insurmountable and difficult to understand sometimes, yet if the right tools are applied, change can happen.

The people at CISR work hard everyday to update their demining network on the latest news and facts of what’s going on in the world, including Sudan.  I’d like to think, that in some small way, CISR, staffed by JMU people, by establishing this collaborative link, has helped that glimmer of hope for peace between the North Sudan and South Sudan to shine a little brighter.

To learn more about CISR visit: http://maic.jmu.edu/


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

2 Responses to Pickaxe and elbow grease peace

  1. Pingback: The ought-to-be-bridled freedom of speech « James Madison University's Be the Change

  2. John Reeves says:

    To: JMU Be The Change
    Yes, the JMU Center for De-Mining has done much and is important; but, no, the ill winds of war and terrible violence are rising again in South Sudan–very troubling. My son helped several US AID projects in the South until last year and also passes on some concerns that civil and terrible war will/ is returning. The article below is just one of several–FYI. JB Reeves
    Land mines return to Southern Sudan
    06-Jun 12:35 By Maggie Fick (from New Zealand – 3news.co.nz )

    An increase in military battles in Southern Sudan has resulted in the laying of new land mines, reversing the time-consuming progress de-miners had made to clear the south of mines after two decades of civil war, a UN mining expert said.

    The new mines are resulting in civilian and military casualties and are preventing aid groups from helping populations in the oil-producing greater Upper Nile region, where a range of rebel militias are battling the southern army.

    A UN Mine Action map dated May 20 shows 16 incidents of explosions of both anti-personnel and anti-tank mines from mid-November to mid-May in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states.

    Six of the cases occurred in the first half of May, and at least one additional explosion that killed three people has since been reported, according to an aid worker familiar with the incident who is not allowed to be identified by name.

    The UN map indicates that both civilians and southern soldiers have been killed and injured by mines. The most recent explosion on the map, from May 17, left a 17-year old boy injured, after he stepped on an anti-personnel mine in Unity state “when looking after his cattle,” according to the UN map. Another UN security report said that the boy lost both feet.

    In March, two women were injured when they stepped on an anti-personnel mine while collecting firewood in a remote area of Jonglei state where the rebel leader George Athor had fought intense battles with the southern army the previous month.

    Tim Horner, deputy director of the UN Mine Action Office in Southern Sudan, said his agency thinks that the evidence indicates that rebel militia groups are laying mines.

    “We’ve seen an increase in mine incidents and mine accidents over the past six months or so and in many areas we think there are a lot alleged cases of re-mining,” Horner added. “We can’t prove because we haven’t seen but anecdotal evidence that these are newly laid, not old mines”.

    Another UN security report said that troops from the southern military commandeered an aid group’s 7-ton truck last month, loaded it with land mines and drove north.

    Horner called the new cases of mine laying “sad,” given that the new mines reverse the painstaking work of de-miners across the south since 2005, when Sudan’s north and south ended a more than two-decade-long civil war.

    When the war ended, Southern Sudan was riddled with mines, and Horner said it was difficult to safely traverse most of the south’s main roads. The mines had been laid by both northern and southern armies.

    The new mine laying is forcing aid groups and UN agencies to stop working in areas of the most serious conflicts.

    “The laying of mines since January is seriously impeding humanitarian access,” said Lise Grande, who leads the United Nations’ humanitarian operations in Southern Sudan. “Mines are being laid in areas where rebel militia groups are active”.

    The medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said its malnutrition programs and other medical programs have been hampered both by the ongoing army-rebel violence in Unity state and by the laying of new mines.

    “As of mid-May, we had no choice but to stop movements out of Bentiu after receiving reports of land mines located on several roads we normally use for outreach visits to treat children with severe malnutrition,” said MSF’s Gautam Chatterjee. The group also could not send out a medical team to the town of Mankien, which was attacked by rebel forces last month, because of the threat of mines.

    In 2004, Sudan signed the Ottawa Treaty, committing the Khartoum-based government to clear all the mines laid in its territory by 2014. Horner said the laying of new mines makes it even less likely that the 2014 goal will be reached.


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