Nigel Ellway and CEO Lou Mcgrath OBE meet victims of explosive violence

Written by Nigel Ellway

The 4th review conference of the antipersonnel mine ban convention took place in Oslo during the last week of November.

The Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation was represented at the conference by CEO Lou McGrath OBE and Nigel Ellway:

Talk about awesome! There I was, in Oslo, at the Nobel Peace Centre with Lou McGrath OBE who twenty two years ago in Oslo had received the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in the creation of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

The Review Conference itself was as all United Nations conferences are: A hall full of delegates from both donor and recipient countries; and lots of delegates from civil society – all vying with each over whose programmes deserved the most funding.

This was the first time the Foundation had attended a Review Conference under both its new identity and its new leadership: we found much approval for both, Sir Bobby Charlton’s name still has that magic with all – from the victims to the ambassadors. More importantly the new direction of operation for the Foundation is what really sparked people’s attention.

Victim assistance is often discussed at these meetings, cited as being high on the mine-action agenda, yet with victim numbers increasing on an annual basis – now horrifically back to pre-convention figures, there is still not enough action by donor countries. In his summing up statement to the Conference Lou McGrath took the opportunity to call for donors to take long term action, and to look at victim assistance from a developmental perspective rather than from a purely humanitarian approach.

Lou also took the opportunity to raise with the assembled dignitaries an issue that has concerned us for some time:

In September, Lou and I attended an extremely powerful meeting in Jordan which called for a partnership approach to victim assistance, this meeting allowed The Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation to showcase one of its flagship projects – the Sir Bobby Charlton Rehabilitation Centre in Amman, managed by our local NGO partner Asia Training & Development.

It is not unusual for NGOs and conference organisers to include case studies to reinforce their arguments and recommendations – but sometimes this can be somewhat exploitative. My colleague Prof Roger Mullin found this too at the recent Wilton Park conference on demining in Angola which he attended in South Africa.

At that event, Roger met a Ugandan lady called Margaret who had lost her leg when the car she was driving hit a mine in northern Uganda. Margaret now works on a voluntary basis to help other victims of explosive violence and was the epitome of a community entrepreneur. The problem was, she has no funding and no income. Yet Margaret was at the meeting to talk about her experiences so that large NGOs could garner more funding from Donor states.

At the Oslo Conference, Lou and I also met Margaret. This time she was on the panel of a discussion on the role of new technology in mine action. She proudly declared that during the conference she would be receiving a new 3D printed prosthetic leg; something which disappointingly didn’t happen.

To attend these conferences Margaret has her airfare and hotel paid, and receives a small daily allowance or ‘per diem’. After the event, she returns to Uganda to her unpaid position and with no funding promise in her pocket.

Margaret was not alone and I wanted to speak to victims such as her to understand their expectations and aspirations.

Lou and I met Mariel a very optimistic and cheerful young Colombia woman who, as a child, was injured by a mine near her home. Now in her mid-twenties she was campaigning for the rights of victims and had been working for a prosthetic support clinic which, despite there being both the equipment left by an international NGO and the qualified people available to use it, had closed down after Government funding ran out.

Mariel’s ambition is to create a local NGO to take over the running of this clinic and provide wider support to victims in the local area and I hoped that attending the Oslo conference would lead to her receiving the financial support she needs.

Another face we recognised from the Jordan event was Alex, a young Ugandan man who impressed us with his confidence and matter-of-fact attitude. A football fanatic, the biggest disappointment to him in losing his leg was not being able to play football anymore – he was very keen though to get a running blade so that he could at least get back into sport.

Alex and I spent an hour or so talking over coffee. Unlike Margaret and Mariel he had been injured while serving in the Ugandan army. I have spoken to many ex-military victims and they tend to have a very different psychological reaction to their injuries than civilian victims. Combatants know they are putting themselves in harm’s way and this I think makes them somewhat stoical about their injuries.  Alex’s story was quite different from Margaret or Mariel’s, but no less remarkable. He was the only member of his unit to survive the blast and he had to carry out first aid on himself – placing a tourniquet around his shattered leg just above the knee. This certainly saved his life – along with his huge mental fortitude!

Alex confessed that once back in the hospital he had suffered badly with depression and PTSD. One particular incident, he told me, shook him out of his own despair, and that was helping a young girl in the hospital come to terms with her own amputation. From that moment his mental attitude returned to a determination not to let his injuries define him and he resolved to become an advocate for mine victims in Uganda.

While Alex was in hospital he also bought himself a pile of books and studied his way through recovery. Alex is now a qualified medical lab technician and wants to study further to progress.

As with Margaret and Mariel, Alex is brought to these conferences to convince donors to give more money to the charities, money that he will never see.

I was astounded to learn just before we parted, that Alex is a single parent with two children to bring up alone. He saves up his ‘per diem’ and sends this home to provide for his children.

Surely this practice of using victims as case studies at conferences should have more benefits for the victims themselves – at least more than the barest allowances if not some tangible funding for their projects at home.

Although the Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation cannot hope to help every single victim of a land mine, unexploded bomb or improvised device, through our rehabilitation centres we can provide some of the long term support they need – particularly with vocational training, and may as with the case of Ms. Huda Asfour, a former patient and now employee at the Sir Bobby Charlton Centre in Amman, provide scholarships for victims to continue professional studies.

The Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation was able to help Huda through special training in leadership & peer support: She now runs the youth leadership training & youth mentor programme at the centre in Amman.

This is what it means to take a developmental approach to victim support – you treat victims as the people they really are and help them to achieve their aspirations, and this then leads to them returning to normal life within their communities – which is a huge step to delivery of several sustainable development goals and contributes hugely to peace-building, security, stabilization and reconstruction for nations recovering from conflict.