Church provides help to clear Mozambique of land mines

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Jacky D�Almeida, director of the Accelerated Demining Program near Vilankulo, Mozambique, displays pieces of a landmine.
April 20, 2005

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

VILANKULO, Mozambique (UMNS)—Children are running and playing in a soccer field that a few days earlier was a minefield.

Women are washing clothes in a clear channel of water that until recently was too dangerous to approach.

Hundreds of young Mozambicans are sitting in classrooms at the Escola Professional Domingos Savio, a technical school, built on the site of a former rebel stronghold that is riddled with mines.

Seeing former death traps turn into places of hope is "magic," says Jacky D’Almeida, director of the Accelerated Demining Program, the team working to clear the land mines.

But the work is not over. Just one day after touring a cleared land mine field, D’Almeida hears of a group of villagers herding their cattle to water and stumbling upon an undiscovered minefield. Four are killed and eight are seriously injured.

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

George Muronda (left) and Jacky D�Almeida of the Accelerated Demining Program discuss mine removal operations near Vilankulo, Mozambique.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief is working in partnership with the demining program, and since 2003, more than 3 million meters of land have been cleared in Mozambique.

The church is the only group doing this work, without any government involvement, and it is crucial to the program’s success, D’Almeida says.

"We want the United Methodist Church to be on our governing board," he says. "You can see what the contribution of the United Methodist Church has made to my country. Anyone can see it. I think even God can see it."

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, mines cause 15,000 to 20,000 causalities a year. The real evil of the land mines is that they are in areas most needed by the people: on farms, where cattle graze and where children go to school, D’Almeida says.

Money from the church has made it possible to get a land-mine-clearing machine and specially trained dogs that sniff out the mines. Before the machine and the dogs, demining was a slow and dangerous process done by humans.

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Specially trained dogs sniff for landmines left over from years of civil war near Vilankulo, Mozambique.
The demining program has seven dogs bought by the United Methodist Church. "They are fantastic soldiers, wonderful dogs," D’Almeida says. The dogs are trained in the United States at the Global Training Academy near San Antonio. Once a dog finds something, it sits and waits for a human to come and dig up the mine. The dogs are rewarded for their work with a few minutes of play with their human partner.

During the civil war, which ended in 1992, both sides planted the mines but did not keep records of where they were placed. D’Almeida, who describes himself as a "former terrorist," is a man with a mission. His passion for demining Mozambique consumes everyone in his path, and he says it makes it possible for him to "go home happy every day."

Asked why he works in such a dangerous environment, he quietly says, "I think I was obligated to get involved."

"When you see a place cleared and know what it was before and what it is now, that is magic. I go home in peace every night because I know I have made a contribution for a better future."

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Raul Fole (left), a supervisor with Mine Tech International, walks through the village of Malaica, Mozambique, with local leader Ernest Morgado.
D’Almeida says that since the peace agreement was signed, he and his fellow soldiers and former enemies are "brothers in arms forever."

"I just want a better day for all of us," he says. "Who in the world does not want to leave the world well?"

A DVD on the UMCOR land mine removal program is available from the Board of Global Ministries. Contributions to land mine removal may be sent through local United Methodist churches or annual conferences, or by mailing a check to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. Write the check to "Advance GCFA" and include "Land Mine Removal" (Advance Special #982575) on the check memo line. Call (888) 252-6174 to give by credit card. For more information, visit the Advance Web site,

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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