Mine Action Angola: Inveta Mukuzu
For over a decade Inveta had to walk through minefields to get to her patch of land to grow crops.
"Landmines are still hurting people and holding us back long after the war has ended. These evil weapons were buried underground long ago, and they do not choose their victims. Once peace returned, nobody remembered exactly where they were anymore, no one removed them, and they stayed in the ground. We have lived in fear for so long because of them, always afraid that our next step might be our last.
During the war landmines were planted around part of Quitexe to protect our village from the rebel forces. But they found a different path and still attacked us. I will never forget that night and the terror. I can still hear the screaming and crying. My family and I fled to another village about 40km away: Uíge. Living there was a very sad period for all of us. We had no work, no shelter and there was very little we could find to eat. In 2002, the war ended, and we could finally return home.
Everything had changed. With the landmines still there, the whole area remained paralyzed. Houses couldn't be built, fertile fields nearby couldn't be cultivated, and the village couldn't expand. In the beginning we had to be guided through the minefields to farm beyond the barrier. When the guides were unavailable we couldn’t get through. We all know about a villager who stepped off the path, his injuries were too severe, and he died close to his farm leaving behind a wife and small children.
For the last decade I too have been risking my life walking through the minefields to get to a safe patch of land where I grow crops to support my family. Every day I would walk three hours there and three hours back which didn’t leave much time for working the land. But I did it anyway, I am a mother of 7 and I have a responsibility to provide for them.
Then APOPO came to Quitexe. I heard about big rats that could sniff out landmines! I must say I found it hard to believe. When I saw them I was amazed, and it changed how I think of rats completely. Who knew such a small and elusive creature could save lives? They explained that the rats can smell the landmines – that is incredible. Once the rats find the landmines, people from APOPO then go and dig them out and destroy them safely.
Now we are finally free to use our land. We are allowed to ride bicycles and use motorbikes to travel far. We are free again! This changes everything. Thank you HeroRATs! Thank you APOPO! I am extremely grateful and relieved. Now I use a shortcut to my farm shaving off hours of time I used to spend getting there and back. My family can easily collect firewood and water from nearby our home. Our children are free to run and play, they enjoy collecting “turuturu” (giant mushrooms) from the forest. I look forward to what the future will bring to our village. With safe access, traders will come, and we will be able to sell our surplus produce. My grandchildren and great-grandchildren will not know this fear of landmines."
APOPO worked in Quitexe in partnership with Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) .