Securing children's futures through clearance

Meet HALO deminer Shmagi Rekhviashvili. Now 31, he had suffered a serious injury when he was only 15 after accidentally exploding what was probably a cannon round. He had been playing at a former Soviet military firing range on the border of his home village of Mianeti in rural Georgia. The device exploded when he smashed it on a rock, amputating his right hand at the wrist and taking off all four fingers from his left hand. 

Smagi explains:

We didn't know about the dangers and so it was not unusual for local kids to venture into the firing range to explore. We didn't know that the metal items were explosive.

Although it had fallen into disuse after Georgia gained independence in 1991, the Udabno Firing Range had been used heavily as a training facility during the Afghan-Soviet war of 1979-89, and the area was still strewn with thousands of munitions - hundreds of which were unexploded ordnance (UXO) that could maim or kill. 

For Shmagi, living with his injuries proved tough, particularly when he left school and tried to find work:

As most of the work around here is agricultural labour, it was very difficult for me to get a job. The Red Cross gave me ten sheep, and I already had a horse, so I worked as a shepherd.

The unemployment rate in Georgia is high. In 2014, the national percentage was 12.4%, but the figure is much higher in deprived, rural areas such as Shmagi's home village.

In December 2013, HALO Georgia conducted technical survey of Udabno Firing Range. After securing funding for large-scale clearance from Japanese and American donors, HALO began a local recruitment drive the following summer. Shmagi was one of the first to apply for work. With a slight modification to the grip of a Schonstedt detector (pictured above), he was able to complete training and qualify as a BAC (Battle Area Clearance) operator. 

Recently married, Shmagi was delighted to be earning a regular wage for the first time in his life. Thanks to his job he was able to renovate his home in time for the arrival of his first son in the spring of 2015.

By the end of summer 2014, HALO Georgia employed over 110 operational staff at the Udabno project, 80 of whom came from local villages. The kindergarten next door to the HALO base in Lemshveniera village, previously closed down due to lack of demand, reopened its doors to serve local families who were returning home to work for HALO after years of living elsewhere in the country. 

HALO's Battle Area Clearance (BAC) teams cleared around two historically significant 6th century monasteries as well as access roads used by thousands of tourists and visiting school groups each year. 

Shmagi is happy that his hard work has helped ensure the safety of the local people and visitors:

I hope I have helped prevent an accident happening to anyone else, and I am happy that I won't have to worry about my children's safety in the future.