Like many Colombians, Martha Quintero’s life was turned upside down by the armed conflict that has ravaged the country for over five decades. Her father was killed and the family were forced to abandon their land and endure years of displacement. But three years ago, Martha returned to her birthplace and chose to become part of its future, by training as a HALO deminer. Since then Martha has swiftly risen up the ranks to the position of supervisor.
Returning to La Cristalina, where her late father was an administrator on one of the region’s largest cattle farms, was a time of mixed emotions for Martha. Armed groups first began to appear in the area around 1994, causing people to abandon their farms until unemployment was rife. Prices increased due the scarcity of produce, partly due to abandonment of the farms and partly because companies refused to deliver supplies in the absence of security. The price of a sack of rice rose from 50 cents to $2. Soon afterwards the armed groups began to cultivate coca for cocaine production.
That was the ruin of this village. In those days there was plenty of money, but it was like cursed money. That money cost us so many lives.
Her father was tragically killed by combatants in 2005. Months later she and her brother were forced to flee to Medellin after they refused to hand over their farm’s profits to guerilla troops.
Martha was first recruited by HALO in late 2013, after passing a fitness test and paramedic training.
HALO has been the best thing that has happened to me. It has taught me so much. I know how to use a detector, I know how to cannulate someone in an emergency, I’ve learnt to live with people I’ve never met before and share the little I have with them.
On her first day of work Martha cleared two meters, but now she often clears up to 20. Even on days when she clears five square metres she is proud:
Those are five square metres that you can hand over to a farmer, and say ‘walk on this land, use it, grow your crops on it and jump on it if you want… because I can guarantee you that there are no mines there.
HALO changes your life a lot. Before, people would say be careful, there are mines over there, and I wouldn’t go near the place. But now when we hear about a minefield, we go and get those mines out.