August 2013. In the western municipality of Timba, Oberney is working the land when other farmers approach him and urge him to participate in a demonstration. The stakes: more rights and better prices for the Colombian farmers. Oberney, with two small children and a wife, is quite interested in what they have to say and decides to attend a meeting about a planned road block. When, at the day of the manifestation, the twenty-fifth of August, he is on his way to the road block on the main road, he takes an ill-fated step onto a landmine. An explosion follows. Oberney does not remember anything beyond that.
The now thirty-three-year-old Colombian wakes up in the hospital after an eight-day coma.
“I saw the doctor and the mother of my children standing next to my bed. I wanted to move to them, but that didn’t work. My body didn’t move. I couldn’t feel anything.” His shaking voice, the nervous fidgeting with his nails and his downward gaze speak volumes.
Blessing in disguise
Contrary to many other surviving landmine victims, Oberney was lucky enough not to lose a leg or an arm in the explosion. However, he did have to stay in the hospital for over two months to recover from his injuries, which included heavy burns.
During that period, Beatriz Guerrero, psychologist and coordinator of Terra de Paz, the local partner organisation of Handicap International, found out about Oberney. To this day, she provides psychological support to landmine victims through support groups. Oberney says he gets much strength from the interaction with other survivors:
“The talk sessions do me a world of good. At moments when I feel bad, the others are there to give me courage or vice versa. We give each other hope.”
His son Juan (eight) and his daughter Camila (four) are his greatest support of all. During our conversation, his children hardly left his side. Oberney shows himself to be a patient father who pays much attention to his young progeny. The loving interaction between the three is wonderful to behold.
At moments, however, the familial happiness is overshadowed by an absent mother. She left the family shortly after Oberney’s accident.
“I have to be both father and mother to Juan and Camila”, says Oberney, now with moist eyes. “Since their mother is no longer there, I have to play both roles. That hurts sometimes.”
More than an income
Still, the Colombian wants to move on and that is in no small part because of Juan and Camila. He wants to raise them to the best of his abilities and he considers them his greatest motivation.
Consequently, the former farmer did not doubt for a second when it was suggested he run a local shop. Handicap International would financially support the start-up and set up workshops on shop management. After all, because of the landmine accident, physical work in the field had become impossible: Oberney’s body is still full of shrapnel and the scars on his arm and back make it difficult for him to tolerate the sometimes relentless Colombian sun.
Thanks to the shop, which opened on the first of January 2015, Oberney is now able again to generate an income for himself and take care of his family.
“But that is not the only advantage of this socio-economic project of Handicap International”, coordinator Beatriz Guerrero explains.
“Landmine victims are often forced to stop working. They feel shame because they are no longer productive and can no longer fulfil their responsibility to their family. With a new job, they also regain their dignity. That has an effect on the environment that sees a person again rather than a victim. We observe that everybody is becoming aware that also people with a handicap are able to lead an independent life.”
Oberney’s local shop sells mostly rice, sugar, flower and coffee. He buys these products in the city and has them delivered. Apart from that, he usually does everything on foot because in the bus, the uneven roads cause him to suffer unbearable painful shocks.
The Colombian hopes that a doctor will soon be able to pinpoint the causes of his pain with a scan. “The examination must be done with a CT scan because my body is full of shrapnel which rules out regular x-rays”, he explains.
He did come up with a solution himself as well: a motorbike. That would allow him to get from A to B quickly and comfortably because a motorbike is safer and more gentle than a bus. “I would especially like to use it to drive Juan and Camila to school. Now I walk two hours twice a day to take them to school. And when the sun is too harsh, my scars hurt too much after all that time and force me to send them with somebody else.”
Since the opening of his shop, Oberney consistently manages to put aside small amounts of money to purchase a motorbike. When he pulls out his savings box to prove it, a broad smile and twinkling eyes make an appearance for the first time.