The Mine Awareness Campaign for Somalia was developed in 1994. It drew on lessons learned in Cambodia (which a proponent told me recently was the best mine awareness campaign in the world). The Somali campaign materials consisted of the normal things expected in a campaign-a poster showing types of mines and a warning poster (a "do/don't do" scenario). The posters were made of cloth for longevity, and when the community campaign was initiated they were also printed on paper. They were A1 size which was a unusual at that time in Somalia and proved a novelty. There were also disadvantages: sometimes the poster was as big or bigger than any flat area on which it could be hung, and in an country of dust and poverty the cloth proved extremely useful in ways that were not quite as anticipated! The campaign also had the requisite leaflet, but it had one other important element-a small brochure for the teacher with two lesson plans and several classroom activities to try. The campaign itself had a training component so that teachers could be given ideas on how to implement the campaign. This was reinforced by a booklet with additional information for teachers and trainers-all in the Somali language.
The Somali campaign was originally designed for returnees and the nomads of central Somalia. Most towns had been cleared of mines and although people understood the problem of mines, they did not have reasonable solutions. There was a genuine audience in the returnee population and with some nomad groups. Many of these people had been away from areas for a long time and had not lived with the mine problem. In addition, many of the anti-personnel mines used in Somalia were the light, plastic pressure mines which float and therefore moved in the deluges of rain. Regardless of how meticulously they had been laid originally, the location of mines became completely random. This, in turn, meant no safe areas.
The problems encountered with the initial Somali campaign were both educational and political. The returnee populations were not returning to the sedentary lifestyles they had before the conflict. The nomads kept wandering away from sites where the programme could be implemented. Although it was implemented in schools, it could be argued that it was invalid as the material, the audience and the need did not match.
Implementing the mine awareness campaign in town and village schools, however, provided a wonderful pilot approach. It was at this level, when travelling in central Somalia with Somali colleagues, that the evolution from campaign to programme really began. Originally the lesson plans were written by Somalis for Somalis-a valid approach. What we did not realise was that the Somali writers had already taken into account the problems of limited teachers and a very rigid syllabus. Hence the lessons outlined in the mine awareness campaign were lecture style, content oriented and made no real attempt to help the children understand the problems of mines and their ramifications. Thus, as we were beginning the implementation process we were already modifying. New lessons were written so that we could make the problem of mines relevant to the children's lives. This was achieved by highlighting the premise of "something dangerous": broken glass, a baby near a fire, playing football on the road, etc. This approach proved to be very effective and was used in the teacher training for mine awareness.
The teacher training component was vital. It allowed for modifications as previously described, it brought teachers together and gave an importance and validity to mine awareness which can be very difficult to achieve. As outsiders we often assume that the intrinsic importance of a programme such as mine awareness is obvious and therefore such a programme will be given its due significance in the classroom. It is this false expectation that leads to limited effectiveness in many campaigns. Mine awareness may be very necessary to the home population but often it is not prioritised by those who need it most. These campaigns need to be "sold" to the teachers or to the officials who will implement them. One way to do this is through teacher training. International professionals working for organisations with educational mandates (such as UNESCO and UNICEF) have naturally promoted strong teacher training components.
The idea of "selling" the importance of the campaign and the information contained in it was first tackled in Northwestern Somalia. The school programme was accepted by the Ministry of Education just as the long summer vacation began. Rather than waste valuable time waiting until the new school year began to implement the campaign, it was decided to initiate a community campaign. The approach was to utilise the oral tradition of the Somalis to disseminate information through song and drama.
Two teams of singers and actors travelled throughout Northwest Somalia telling of the dangers of mines and how to avoid them. This was done through songs, skits and plays. Between the two teams, every town and village in the country was visited. Concerts were held in conjunction with market days so that the target audiences could be reached. The teams also held impromptu concerts along the roadside for nomads. The teams trained and rehearsed with both national and international PEER trainers with the emphasis on teaching awareness. (See for more information on PEER.) The concerts were extremely successful and reached a wide cross-section of society.
By utilising a style of communication familiar to the Somalis, the information was both well communicated and received. For example, one very popular skit revolved around a small toothless man wooing a beautiful young girl by promising her marriage and wealth. Each promise is more elaborate than the last-he would fetch the water, herd the goats, give silken cushions for her to recline on, give jewels beyond price. Each time the girl refuses until the man offers her all this and a house. Then, after she finally accepts, he tells her she has to fix one small problem-the house has mines around it.could she clear them please? This was used to introduce a dialogue with the audience about mines and the dangers inherent in their presence, especially in houses and buildings abandoned by soldiers in small villages.
When the school campaign started at the end of the summer, the message was more acceptable as it already had the "seal of success". Children knew that their parents had seen and enjoyed the concert and that gave legitimacy to the school campaign.
In Somalia, the approach used in Northwestern Somalia was not possible because of security problems. Instead, a video was produced and distributed to the towns and villages to be shown in the local video halls. The school kits were distributed. Teachers were trained through the "cascade" training approach where international educators trains a small group of national educators, who in turn, train regional trainers, who train local trainers, etc. The school kit was also used in the Ethiopian and Kenyan refugee camps for both children and adults, but more as a resource kit than as a set of lessons.
This text is an excerpt from Baxter and Hoffman's chapter
entitled "Awareness Campaigns vs. Education Programmes:
Experiences Developing Mine Awareness Education for
Children" in the forthcoming joint IBE-Cassell UK
publication Education as a Humanitarian Response.