Mine Action Angola: Luisa Manuel
After the conflict ended, Luisa and her family set about rebuilding our lives but struggled to access fertile land because of the landmines.
“My name is Luisa Manuel. I am from Quitexe in Angola. At 65, I am the head of a large family, providing for ten children and numerous grandchildren by farming the same land worked by my ancestors. Before the war, our family enjoyed a comfortable life, provided by our crops. We grew pumpkins, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, bananas, cassava and peanuts.
But the war changed all that. There was so much violence, and hatred. Over 30 years ago, landmines were planted around Quitexe by the Angolan Armed Forces to protect it from the rebels. As the rebels moved closer to the town, and eventually attacked, our terrified family were made to leave so we fled to Uíge to escape the violence. During the journey we would shelter in the woods or in swamps. We ended up on the streets of Uíge, with nowhere to live and begged to survive, gathering whatever food we could to feed the family. It was no way to live.
When the conflict ended in 2002, our family returned to find our abandoned house damaged. We set about rebuilding our lives but struggled to access the fertile land safely because of the landmines. We were living in constant fear for our lives because we knew there were landmines laid all around the village. We had to stick to known footpaths that would safely get us through the minefields to land we could farm – a two hour walk each way.
I knew there were landmines close to the houses too. Hardly ten meters from our house were the trenches and I knew there were landmines near the trenches. We'd even seen them when people around us initially tried to plough the land or take shorter routes to the forest to collect mushrooms and firewood or draw water from the river. Our family had to be careful. I know two people who ventured off the paths, stepped on landmines and died. We told the children and tried to keep them inside, but it wasn't easy - we didn't feel safe anywhere. The landmines continued to threaten our livelihood and safety as we lived in fear of injury or death by the same landmines that had been laid to protect us. I found it very hard to feed my family. Then APOPO came.
Initially I was very puzzled when I saw APOPO’s HeroRATs as they were different rats than the ones I know. Also, they were on leashes and walking back and forth in boxes on the minefield scratching at the surface when they found a landmine. I only knew rats as destructive pests and when they ate our crops or dug into food reserves this made me angry. I had never imagined rats could save lives!
When the news arrived from our community leader that the minefields had been cleared by APOPO, everyone was extremely happy and excited. The land was already prepared by the big machines so many families very quickly got to planting and growing crops.
Thank you APOPO for removing the landmines and returning safe land back to us. At least now, because of the work that APOPO did here, I have no fear for my family's safety. Once again, I have hope for the future and hope that Angola will be cleared of landmines.”