Leading a team of mine clearance experts

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Johana, 25, has been clearing mine-contaminated land in Colombia for four years. With a look of self-assurance, she coordinates a team of six HI mine clearance experts, some of whom are twenty years older than she. She shares about her work:

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Why did you become a mine clearance expert?

When I was little I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to care for people and help them. I left college at 15. By the time I was 18, I was already a mother. The violent conflict that affected our country for so many years left a deep impression on me. I worked for an American mine clearance organization for several years and then applied for a job with HI. And today, I’m the leader of a six-person mine operation team of experts in the Cauca region, in Cajibío. In four years, I’ve found four mines. It’s really painstaking work. You need a lot of patience and an eye for detail.

What does your role entail?

I supervise the work of the mine clearance experts. I make sure they keep their masks on, check that they stick to the regulation distance between each other and take their time prodding the earth, and so on. I also check to make sure they’re in good health and psychologically fit because it requires a lot of concentration.

Where did you start your mine clearance operations?

We started our operations in July in the municipality of Cajibío (Cauca), where we cleared 411 sq.m of land along the Pan-American Highway. The work was complicated by the noise from the road, which made it impossible to hear the sound of the metal detectors, and by waste metal on the ground, so we couldn’t use them. The mine clearance experts had to cut the grass and prod the ground by hand, which made it longer and more tiring. We’ve destroyed one improvised explosive device, which the team is really proud of. We’ve helped save lives.

How do you manage your fear on a daily basis?

Fear? You feel it all the time. Most importantly, you need to follow the safety guidelines. And to do things step-by-step, take your time and not rush things. I’m confident.

How to manage work as a mine clearance expert and as a wife and mother?

It’s not easy. I see my children and my husband, Dio Medis, who is a mine clearance expert in the municipality of Corinto, every six weeks. My sister looks after our children. I call them every day and I really miss them. But I’m thinking of their future. They’re one of the reasons – the main reason – I’m here.

What is it like as a woman working in this field?

It’s always a challenge to manage a team – but it’s the same for men too. They respect me for my skills: I’m clear, straight to the point, firm, and a good listener. A lot of people think women shouldn’t tell men what to do. There are a lot of mine clearance experts who are much older than me on my team, and who used to be soldiers. We respect each other.

If you weren’t a mine clearance expert, what would you be?

A florist. There’s the same contact with nature, the desire to protect our planet and to make something beautiful out of it.