In 2004, Dominique Gama’s life was turned upside down while walking from his fields to a well to collect water. He took, one, two, three steps towards the well and as his left foot came down on the fourth step, there was an explosion, followed by silence and shock. Despite the violent explosion, Dominique did not lose consciousness and was aware of what had happened. He had stepped on one of countless landmines laid during 25 years of armed conflict in Casamance, Senegal.
“My first reaction was to warn my daughter who was running to help me,” says Dominique. “I shouted at her, no, no, no, stay away! There might be other mines here!”
Dominique tried to get himself out of the booby-trapped area: “I crawled and crawled and sheltered a little further away in a place that seemed safe. I then waited for almost three hours lying on my chest, stricken with pain, before soldiers came and took me to hospital. Nobody else dared to come near me.”
“Mines are laid in a totally random fashion in Casamance,” says Aziz Sy, Handicap International’s head of demining operations in Senegal. “There are mines in the woods, orchards, fields, around wells, and roads. Mines are simply everywhere.”
Dominique tried to rebuild his life after spending a month in the hospital. “I instantly lost all hope,” he says. “I told myself my life was over and that I wasn’t the same person as before. Who would help me with my children? I felt like this even though everyone was saying to me that things would get better once I could walk again with a prosthesis. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to work as hard as in the past or play sports anymore.”
It took Dominique five years to regain a measure of self-confidence and find a stable source of income. “I had to deal with other people’s reactions to my disability. But at the end of the day, I’m not so different from everyone else, maybe they walk better than me but in all other respects we are the same. I work as hard as they do’.”
Handicap International began clearing landmines in Senegal in 2007. In 2011, teams cleared Dominique’s entire village and the surrounding area of landmines. Since then, the village has flourished. More people are building homes and expanding their farmland, including Dominique.
Like many other villagers, Dominique now grows bissap, a type of green, and produces cashew nut wine. He also just started raising pigs. “I love being a pig breeder,” says Dominique. “I would also like to breed poultry in order to ensure that my family has a brighter future. Indeed, our family is set to grow in the near future, as my wife is expecting her fifth child.”
Handicap International cleared 1.8 million square meters of mines between 2007 and 2012 in Casamance. Thanks to the generous support of the U.S. Department of State, Handicap International deminers resumed this life-saving work in December 2015, with the aim of clearing 55,000m² by August 2016.