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Meet Irma: The landmine survivor turned educator

Explosive weapons Rehabilitation

Irma was 11 when her life changed forever. She was out gathering wood to make brooms which her family sold to make a living. Suddenly, there was a loud explosion.

Irma with her daughter Maria Angel, Colombia.

Irma with her daughter Maria Angel, Colombia. | © Bas Bogaerts / Handicap International

“It was very near our house, in a spot where we always went looking for wood”, says Irma. “Suddenly, I stepped on something that exploded and caused a great cloud of dust. I was lying wounded on the ground screaming that I didn’t want to die.”

Irma had stepped on a landmine - one of countless such devices planted in Colombia over the course of 50 years of conflict between the government, armed opposition groups, drug traffickers, and others.

Irma survived the accident but she would need lifelong care for her leg. During her treatment she was referred to Handicap International, which has supported Colombian landmine survivors since 1998. We are supporting Irma to this day.

The challenges of being a single mum with a disability

Our local team in Colombia ensures Irma receives physiotherapy and transport between her home and the rehabilitation centre. With the help of her prosthetic leg, Irma can manage most activities and is a great mother to her baby daughter, Maria Angel.

Irma still struggles with memories of her accident and the challenges of being a single mother with a disability. Monica, a Handicap International mental health advisor, provides Irma with emotional support through regular counselling.

“Sometimes I panic, when I don’t have money for food or nappies for Maria Angel, for instance,” says Irma. “Fortunately, Monica can calm me down with her good advice.”

"By helping others stay safe, something good has come from my loss"

When Irma stepped on a landmine years ago, she hardly knew anything about the dangers posed by these weapons. Today, her greatest fear is that what happened to her could happen to others.

To help ensure others do not have to go through what she has gone through, she has become an ambassador and regularly visits people in their homes to raise awareness and give people the information they need to reduce the risk of accidents happening.

“By helping others stay safe, something good has come from my loss. I’m proud to do this work.

When Maria Angel is old enough, I will tell her everything I know about landmines. I will give her all the educational material I have available here.”

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