SIMAS field visit, Part 2… Wherein Katie blows things up
Our trip to the mine field [view previous post] was just the beginning of our field visit on Friday. We make a quick stop at a mechanical demining site along the banks of the Nile. Until recently, SIMAS lacked sufficient resources to outfit and maintain a mechanical demining team. The equipment allows them to clear land more rapidly and will be a critical component in clearing dangerous areas before the rainy season suspends operations.
We travel 2 kilometers southeast to the roadside control point for the unexploded-ordnance detonation site. Although deminers must blow up mines and UXO sometimes in situ (in place), they greatly prefer moving the weapons off-site for a controlled detonation.
In a pit, set back safely from the road, the UXO team placed sandbags over eight mortars and primed them with explosives. Zlatko handled weapons destruction in the aftermath of the Bosnian war. Every second day, the teams would have collected more than two tons of explosives. Our task would be significantly smaller: 25 kilograms in eight mortars.
Then the fun began: The field supervisor unwound det cord and set the charge. Our group took cover behind a small hut constructed with tree limbs and sandbags. Tradition holds that the sitting HD Fellow usually gets the honor of setting off the demo, so Katie got some quick instructions and the countdown began. Five… four… two… one… the field supervisor counted down into his walkie talkie, the numbers echoing out of everyone’s radios behind the hut. Zero… fire…
BOOM. Katie screamed and then giggled. The rest of us laughed as debris, carried by the explosion and wind, fell nearby. Just like that, we were finished.
SIMAS is an amazing success story in a landscape of frustrated efforts. The first nongovernmental organization in South Sudan to receive international accreditation for its demining teams, SIMAS receives funding and support from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA), the United Nations and other organizations. It partners with UNICEF to deliver mine-risk education and can conduct manual and mechanical clearance as well as UXO spot clearance.
I have a keen interest in resource development for indigenous NGOs, so our conversation back at SIMAS headquarters during lunch and after was fascinating. The organization has an engaged and well respected board that has helped SIMAS establish strategic objectives. Jonas, the director, said that they are constantly asking, “If international organizations withdraw, where are we going to be?”
To help plan for this, SIMAS develops its teams leaders and office personnel. Should funding become available, SIMAS deminers are accredited to high enough levels that operations can rapidly expand. The organization has also received superlative remarks on all three of its independent audits, building confidence for donor countries and organizations.
Plans are also in the works to build a sustainable infrastructure into the HQ compound. Solar panels on an accommodation building and other improvements could mean SIMAS no longer has to buy fuel to run generators and other equipment, and the accommodation block would reduce costs and increase income.
I will return to CISR and JMU with a head full of ideas on possible collaboration with this amazing organization. As a student of NGOs, I am perhaps most excited about what more I can learn from Jonas and his team.
It is Saturday evening as I write in Juba, and a number of soccer (yes, soccer—they have not won me over to football just yet) matches are on the hotel bar’s TVs. We have a BBQ scheduled at Embassy-Juba later tonight before heading to field sites in Yei tomorrow morning. I will update as I can.
Geary Cox II (’06, ’08M, ’15P) is project manager and program coordinator at CISR. He joined the staff as an Editorial Assistant to the Journal of ERW and Mine Action in March 2005. He holds a Master of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Arts in English and political science, both from James Madison University. He is pursuing his doctorate in nonprofit leadership at JMU’s School of Strategic Leadership.