A young Cambodian woman says it is her dream to help remove all land mines from the south of Lebanon and improve living conditions for all people living under the threat of death or injury.
Decades of civil conflict have left Lebanon with a legacy of hundreds of thousands of land mines and cluster munitions which continue to be a danger to people.
Rem Sreypy from Cambodia is one of the youngest deminers trained by the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) to be deployed with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
She has been speaking about her experience ahead of the annual 29 May commemoration of the International Day of Peacekeepers.
“At 21 years old, I am one of the youngest deminers trained by the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) which works alongside UN peacekeepers in Lebanon. This is my first peacekeeping mission and my family is very proud of me. I come from a country that has experienced a civil war. It caused so much pain and suffering that destroyed everything; our homes, families, and schools.
When I was a little girl, never in a million years did I imagine that I was going to be working in a peacekeeping mission and especially as a female deminer.
In my lifetime, I have met so many victims of war who lost limbs, and lost family members. I chose this humanitarian career path so that I could contribute to saving’s people’s lives from mine accidents and help them go back to their normal lives, even though demining is a very risky and dangerous field of work.
We all have a role to play in our societies in improving our living conditions, and everyone, everywhere, deserves to be happy, and to live in communities free from landmines.
Towards a mine-free south Lebanon
With UNIFIL, UNMAS and other partners, we are working to remove landmines, which continue to be a danger to the people living in south Lebanon. We are currently demining near the village of Meiss Ej-Jebel, along the Blue Line*. Every day we clear minefields to make this area safe.
Since 2006, UNIFIL Demining teams have cleared 4,885,900 square meters of land in south Lebanon, disposing of 47,221 items including mines, cluster bombs and unexploded ordinances.
We are clearing mines by hand and using mechanical equipment. We face many challenges during our daily operations, especially during the rainy season, when the soil becomes very muddy, making our work more difficult. We also encounter poisonous snakes and big rocks in the minefield.
Many of the minefields where we usually work, are in open areas and close to local farms and villages. We conduct outreach with the local communities for their safety, so that they don’t come near our area of operations.
Dreaming of picnics and working the land
For me, the most rewarding part of this job is knowing that the land we are clearing will someday be used by the communities we came here to serve.
Someday, I will see a south-Lebanon free of mines, with children and families running in the fields, families doing picnics during the weekend, farmers using the fields to farm, and children walking to schools safely. That’s my dream. It keeps me going.
Removing landmines takes great teamwork and coordination. Being able to work with a variety of colleagues from other countries, as well as local partners, such as the Lebanese Armed Forces, deminers, and other partner organizations, has been an extraordinary opportunity.
I am currently working with nine other women deminers with the peacekeeping operation. It is exciting and inspiring to see women defying gender stereotypes and working in what has been mainly seen as men’s work. Through our courage, commitment and professionalism, we are opening doors for many more women to follow our footsteps.
As women deminers and peacekeepers, we play a vital role in our families and communities in showing the contributions that women make towards peace, and gender equality.”
*The Blue Line, stretching for 120km along Lebanon’s southern frontier, was set by the United Nations in 2000 for the purpose of confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the south of the country.