When I first came across the Advocacy Project’s website, I was amazed by the truly global reach of the program. As I began browsing the various campaigns that AP would be involved with in 2011, there was one that immediately stood out for me, and that was the opportunity to work with landmine survivors in Vietnam and the Association for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (AEPD, formerly Survivor Corps).
Unfortunately, I will not be starting my work with the AEPD until the first week of June. While the majority of my peers in the peace fellowship program are already in their respective countries, I’m still wrapping up my spring semester with final exams and research papers. I’ve been studying in Cairo Egypt for the past year and had the good fortune of having front row seats to what many are dubbing the “Arab Spring”. Amazingly, my university (The American University in Cairo) only had to delay the beginning of the semester by 2 weeks. All things considered, I think this is an accomplishment in and of itself. Because of the slight delay, my semester continues on until the end of the month, but just as the corrupt regime of Mubarak came to end, so does this school year.
I can’t really begin to express how excited I am to be working with the AEPD in Dong Hoi Vietnam. Issues related to landmines and unexploded ordinance (UXO) has become something I’ve intensely focused on in recent years. I first became aware of the problems UXO pose on communities in 2003 during a deployment in Iraq, back when I was in the army. Since then, I’ve taken every opportunity given to me to research and explore areas within the mine action sector. While many of my classmates have rightfully been preoccupied with the revolution and exploring topics related to civil society, I was in the library learning about the UXO situation in Northern Sinai or the complexities of the mine action sector in South Sudan. If a professor gives any sort of creative freedom for a research topic, it almost always comes to back to land mines. This blog isn’t about landmines specifically though; it’s about the AEPD and the amazing work that they do. For an extensive crash course on the socio-economic impact caused by explosive remnants of war, check out the International Campaign to Ban Landmines website.
In a nut shell though, Landmines are cheap to produce and expensive to disarm and remove (not to mention dangerous). Because of this, landmines and other UXO (like cluster munitions or bomblets) often can lay dormant for decades after a conflict. They don’t distinguish between combatants or civilians; they injure or kill thousands every year and are an impediment to development. There are so many unknown factors within this issue however. Any figure of how many landmines remain underground in a particular area is at best an educated guess. Surveying land is complex and expensive and the amount of landmines, or metric tons on UXO in an area is largely unknown. What we do know however is that there are thousands of landmine survivors throughout the world. The land mine issue may go in and out of vogue in western media, but the legacy of war lives on regardless. This is what drew me to apply for the fellowship. Survivors assistance has a genuine impact on communities effected by landmines. So much of the mine action industry focuses on clearance, or improved technology, while survivor assistance is of secondary importance. I argue that it should be the other way around, which is why the spotlight needs to be on organizations like the AEPD.
Judging from the blogs shared by past fellows who worked with this program, I have no doubt that this will be a truly rewarding experience. Vietnam seems like an incredible country and the relaxed beach environment of Dong Hoi will be a nice change from the busy streets of Cairo. I can’t wait to get started with my work in Vietnam. There’s so much that I’ll be able to learn from the staff at AEPD, and it’s my hope that I can match the contributions made by my predecessors. See you next week in Vietnam.
Posted By Ryan McGovern (Vietnam)
Posted May 26th, 2011