Syria: 'Joha' warns children about the risks of explosives
Alongside its local partners, Handicap International runs education sessions about the risks on Syrian territory, primarily for populations displaced by the violence. The intensity of the bombing leaves many areas contaminated with explosive remnants of war and, along with the use of mines and improvised explosive devices, means that civilians are exposed to the threat of explosions. Laurent Davy, Syria Desk Officer at Handicap International, explains why it is so important to raise the Syrian people’s awareness of this danger.
A child drawing an area contaminated by mines and explosive remnants of war during an awareness-raising session. | © Handicap International
"This is one of the first times that we have carried out a risk education programme whilst a conflict is still ongoing. Until now, Handicap International has only ever taken action once peace has been restored and a ceasefire signed and delivered.
However, the needs in Syria are of the utmost urgence. The level of contamination from mines and explosive remnants of war is extremely high in Syria. Many people are exposed to these dangers, particularly those displaced by the violence and who find themselves in a completely new environment - a neighbourhood, a village - with which they are unfamiliar.
That is why we are first and foremost targeting displaced people, primarily women and children. These children can bring about changes in their home by influencing the habits of their parents and their wider family and friends. We also give priority to the besieged areas or areas which are difficult to access."
Joha the puppet
"For the children, one method we use is a puppet show featuring a character, Joha, who does silly things which put him in danger and get a reaction from the children. 'No Joha! Don't go there, it's dangerous, there is a mine!'
This show aims to teach children to have the right reactions: when you see an unfamiliar object, you don't touch it, you don't go near it, you tell an adult. The children also learn to identify the signage which indicates a danger and to reproduce these signs using whatever they have at hand: branches, stones etc.
We also use a pickup truck fitted with a loudspeaker to broadcast messages in certain neighbourhoods. In addition, our teams go door to door, distributing information leaflets and raising awareness amongst the inhabitants about the risks of mines and explosive remnants of war.
The destruction of the economy means families have lost their sources of income; consequently many adults and even children collect the pieces of metal they find on the ground and sell them on. But these pieces of metal can be explosive remnants of war or improvised explosive devices.
There will continue to be a high level of contamination from explosive remnants of war and mines for many years after the conflict. These risk education activities enable us to reduce the number of accidents."
Nearly 400,000 people have already been made aware of the risks linked to mines and explosive remnants of war by Handicap International and its partners since January 2013.