On a low bluﬀ overlooking the point in south-eastern Angola where the Rio Cuito meets the Rio Cuanavale, are the twin villages of Aldeia Sambimbi and Aldeia Mbimbi.
Home to several families living in traditional houses of mud and wood, the two villages’ farmland is bisected by a mineﬁeld laid by Cuban troops in 1987. It was laid during one of the phases of the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale – the biggest tank battle in Africa since World War II.
The original targets of the landmines are long gone. The civil war ended in 2002. But the threat of death or dismemberment hangs over farmers like Olombo Chanaga: “HALO coming to clear this land means there will at last be peace in my village,” he says.
Leading the clearance work is Maria Ilda, Mineﬁeld Supervisor of the two HALO teams. Maria, who is 32 and has two daughters, has been a deminer since 2007:
“My family lives several hours away, so for the ﬁrst two years I didn’t tell them I was working as a deminer. I knew if I told them I was working in mineﬁelds they would encourage me to leave this job.”
“I wanted to work for HALO because I wanted to contribute to clearing my country of landmines. I also applied because there are not many opportunities for work in this country. I am very proud to be a supervisor. In 2011 we had two teams entirely of women, but funding cuts meant those teams were disbanded. It would be nice to see more women teams again – the mines are still here to be cleared.”
Indeed there are. HALO has removed 35,000 mines from Cuito Cuanavale but tens of thousands remain.
HALO is launching a new project 100 Women in Demining in Angola to create female demining teams and provide employment opportunities for women. New female deminers will work in Cuito Cuanavale for a period to gain experience before moving to tackle other minefields in their home province of Benguela.