Interpreters at the service of landmine survivors

Myrna Sultan / Nancy Gagné
10 November 2005

Training of the Landmine Survivors Network

On the occasion of the meeting of the Landmine Survivors Network, ICVolunteers was once again involved in providing volunteer interpreters.

Anti-personnel landmines kill and severely handicap thousands of people every year in many different countries around the world. With an aim to finding a joint solution to this problem, landmine survivors founded the Landmine Survivors Network in 1995. The organization provides support to landmine victims and fights against this devastating plague which ignores cease fires. In 2001, ICVolunteers provided volunteer interpreters allowing an active participation and constructive dialogue between members of the network, thus bridging linguistic barriers.  The meeting took place from 16 to 23 June 2005 in Cartigny, near Geneva, where coordinators of the network discussed the planning of their activities for the next three years addressing any existing challenges of understanding.

Rania Al-Haddad, an Arabic-speaking interpreter, found the theme interesting, though dramatic, and underlines how much she learned about the problems of landmines during this meeting. "I knew there was a problem of mines in Iraq and Palestine, but I did not know that this problem already exists in Yemen, and in Jordan as well," admits the young interpreter.

Humor to deal with suffering

She also learnt about traumatizing figures such as those gathered for the year 2003, when 8000 persons were killed by mines and about 110 million landmines were planted throughout the world, mutilating many victims. Still worse, following the loss of one or several limbs, victims often see themselves excluded from society and left to fend for themselves. Landmines are an impediment to agricultural exploitation in affected areas, a fact which further impoverishes the population living in areas already weakened by conflict.

Despite these dramatic observations, Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Bosnian interpreters, and others, acknowledged that the atmosphere was not one of despair in Cartigny. To take the edge off suffering, victims do not hesitate to joke. - This allows them to better confront the day to day difficulties of reality and at the same time helping to further their mission. "There remains a lot to be done for landmine victims, not only in terms of their health, but also in terms of their social integration," pointed out Jésus Martinez and Nguyen Hoa Hoc. Both victims of landmines in their early years, they later became coordinators of LSN centers in their respective countries, Salvador and Vietnam. They highlighted the importance of family support and its importance for the social reintegration of victims. They are now able to help those who do not benefit from support from their families.

Valuable advice from more experienced interpreters

Rania is aware of the importance of her role during the meeting in Cartigny. She says that this experience has also had an important impact on her private and professional life. In addition to being more aware about personal landmine problems, she also had the chance to get to know more about the world of NGOs, their work and the challenges they face.

Her colleagues, some of whom were more experienced than her, were able to provide her with important advice: " I learned a lot from them. They provided me with some hints and we were able to exchange our experiences. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was capable of interpreting. I also learned new words in Arabic which I had never used in everyday life."

Bridges were built between interpreters and participants and Rania is happy to keep in touch with them, in particular, with the many Jordanians who were present at the meeting. The most moving moment, the most gratifying and the one which will remain written in her memory is the second day: "All members of LSN stood up to applaud  and offered each one of us a symbolic gift in recognition of our work." If she has another chance to help in the future Rania says that she without a doubt she will join the ICVolunteers' team again.

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