Walking to School Through the Cluster Bombs

"It is not right that children who were not even alive during the conflict are still suffering the traumas of war." Tahire Sejdiu, mother of six, Kosovo.

Every week day, four of Basri and Tahire Sejdiu’s children walk from their house, through woodland contaminated with cluster munitions, to reach their school. Although the munitions pose a serious risk, they have no choice. The family's homestead on the outskirts of Komogllave village in western Kosovo lies right in the middle of a cluster strike zone. NATO bombs were dropped here in 1999, targeting Serbian tank positions. Many of the munitions didn't explode and have remained in the ground, threatening the lives and livelihoods of Komogllave's 4,000 residents ever since.

Living so close to the danger zone has had a terrible impact on the Sejdiu family, as Basri explains:

“I live here with my six children, my wife, Tahire, and two of my sisters. We returned soon after the conflict ended. At first we thought that life was quickly getting back to normal – but within weeks of returning I started discovering cluster bombs in the woodland around my house.”

Less than a year later, one of Basri’s neighbours lost an arm to a cluster munition in the forest.

“It was quite shocking at the time,” says Basri, “It made me realise that these items posed a serious threat. Each time I found a new cluster munition I reported it to HALO. It is hard to live your life when you are constantly troubled by worry.”

Basri says that he frequently warns his children about the dangers, telling them not to pick up anything in the forest when they walk to school, or when they are looking after the animals: 

“I am clear to the kids about the risks. But as the danger is all around us, I cannot simply forbid them from entering the woods.”

The presence of the cluster munitions not only causes constant anxiety for the family, it also prevents them from earning money from the land. Basri currently has a job as a security guard but because of the danger he cannot use his land for woodcutting or cultivation, which would provide much needed additional income.

“Yes, I could have earned money by growing things on my land, or woodcutting on my own land – but I decided against it as it was not worth the risk. I am looking forward to the time when this area is cleared and I am free to do what I want!”

Thanks to the support of the US Department of State, HALO is now beginning work to make the area safe, lifting the shadow that has blighted the lives of Tahire and the other villagers for so long. 

"Everybody in the village benefits if the land gets cleared. People will either use the area for firewood, grazing or cultivating. But for me, of course, the greatest part is that my children will finally feel safe when they walk to school."