“I didn’t know what it was,” Jemerson explains of the mine he found on the road in May 2015. He was ten, and he and his two cousins were heading to a farm to gather mandarins. “It was an accident. I picked it up with my right hand, then my left hand, and it exploded.”
Jemerson and his family live in a mountainous region in the village of el Jagual, in the Cauca department, an area severely affected by 50 years of armed conflict, which recently came to an end. Mines and explosive remnants of war contaminate 31 of Colombia's 32 regions. Since 1990, the use of improvised explosive devices has become systematic, generating more than 11,100 casualties, among the injured: Jemerson.
"I was waiting for him to come home,” Jemerson’s mother, Viviana, 27, recalls. “We had heard an explosion. A guard came to tell me my son had had an accident, but with a bicycle. My sister and I rushed to find him.
“Then I saw him. Injured, covered in blood and wounds. His left hand maimed. His father, who was no longer living with us, joined us at the scene. He was losing so much blood, so we took him straight to the Valle de Lili clinic in Cali. He had his left hand amputated. The surgeon told us he might be left paralyzed or even die."
The following weeks were extremely painful. "This accident scarred us all for life,” she adds. “Jemerson, who was so dynamic, active, and obsessed with soccer (football), became angry, sometimes aggressive, and depressed. He had suicidal thoughts. He said he didn't want to live without his left hand."
But Jemerson pulled through. Our teams provided rehabilitation care, and then fit him with an artificial arm. Since then, he’s been able to take part in painting and drawing classes and dreams of being a professional soccer player. Jemerson has his strength back.
Jemerson also receives psychological support from Lesly, Handicap International’s psychologist. "She was with us the whole way," Viviana says. "She helped us immensely."
Jemerson and Viviana share their house, made of sticks and mud, with Jemerson’s sister, cousin, and Viviana’s 16-year-old step-sister. Although there is running water and electricity, their living conditions are precarious. They have very little income.
“I want us to be able to move to a better house,” Viviana says. “And to have a stable job. It's not easy to move on because we have so many terrible memories. It's been hard, but we'll pull through.
"The most important thing is that my children can get on with their lives.”
Colombia: One of the world’s most densely mined countries
As part of the new peace agreements between the government and Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), the Colombian government granted Handicap International full authorization in May 2016 to conduct mine clearance operations in three of the country’s regions. Handicap International has since launched a five-year mine clearance operation, with a specific focus on indigenous land, in the regions of Cauca, Meta, and Caquetá. Learn more about our work in Colombia.