The Association Sénégalaise des Victimes de Mines (ASVM) was founded in 1999 by a group of landmine survivors and has grown to over 400 members, nearly half of all the landmine survivors in Senegal. With official status since 2001, ASVM works on behalf of landmine survivors to assist in the rehabilitation and inclusion of survivors, fight against the threat of landmines, encourage the clearance of landmines from the Casamance region of Senegal and educate the people of the Casamance about the risks posed by landmines. Through partnerships with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), Geneva Call, CICR, UNICEF, Handicap International (HI) and the Centre National d’Actions Antimines au Sénégal (CNAMS, Senegal’s mine action authority), ASVM has been remarkably effective in meeting its mandate, despite financial barriers.
“It is not about just giving handouts to mine victims”
Starting with the Mine Ban Treaty and the obligation of states to provide assistance to landmine survivors, ASVM works to identify the capacity of individual survivors and provide them with the means to support themselves. With funding from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), ASVM worked with a Mr. Ba who lost his leg to a landmine while he was farming near the border with Guinea-Bissau. In interviews, ASVM staff learned that Mr. Ba was a trained bicycle mechanic and so ASVM provided Mr. Ba with the start up capital to open a bicycle repair business which he uses to support himself and his three children.
For Martine Niafouna, employment at the Club Med in Cap Skirring beckoned until she too lost a leg to a landmine while collecting firewood. The injury halted her hospitality career, but with ASVM’s support, Martine has established herself as a small businesswoman with a vegetable stall.
The founders of ASVM, Mamady Gassana, Sarani Diatta and M. Bacary Diedhiou, are all landmine survivors themselves and by their own lives demonstrate the principle of self-sufficiency. For example, Gassama completed his university studies and now works as a financial and administrative officer for Norwegian People’s Aid and founded a marketing company to promote the products of persons with disability (Scoops of Ziguinchor). For other survivors, ASVM has advocated for making “30 hectares of land south of Casamance’s main city Ziguinchor available to mine victims as well as to local residents, for market gardening, livestock farming and other agricultural work” (IRIN News).
As an advocacy organization, ASVM also promotes sports for persons with disabilities as a means of demonstrating the abilities of survivors and to raise awareness about international treaties like the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). ASVM organized a regional basketball tournament bringing together survivors from the Casamance region, the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau in December 2012. The tournament helped encourage the government of Guinea-Bissau to sign the CRPD. Other sports events hosted by ASVM have sought to build peace among Casamancais communities through football and mine risk education. These activities were part of the Survivor Network Project supported by the ICBL which also provided socio-economic support to survivors and also support by UNICEF (Scoops of Ziguinchor; Scoops of Ziguinchor).
In addition to economic assistance, ASVM runs a referral program for survivors to help them find and obtain rehabilitation services from prosthetics to mental health care. ASVM also provides mine risk education programs for persons in the Casamance, using the members’ own experience to highlight the risks to the population. ASVM members go to schools and local communities to conduct mine risk education sessions, sometimes at night to ensure greater participation. ASVM has also collaborated with Handicap International and UNICEF to produce a DVD on mine risk education.
“We must realize that sometimes the people in power don’t have the level of engagement that we would like to see. In some countries, for example Senegal, it is very easy for them to sign the Treaty but the implementation is more difficult.” Mamady Gassama (Mines Action Canada).
The Association Sénégalaise des Victimes de Mines will focus its advocacy efforts on the differential treatment civilian landmine survivors face in Senegal relative to military survivors. Soldiers when they are injured by landmines are provided with preferential medical treatment and a government pension; civilian victims are forced to rely on local health care facilities and receive no compensation. This is discriminatory and as a party to the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Senegal has pledged not to allow such discriminatory policies. ASVM will be publicizing this situation to the international community with the hopes of getting Senegal to change its policies so as to be equitable for civilians and soldiers (M. Gassama, personal communication).
In addition to advocacy, ASVM has grand plans to reduce the threat of landmines through mine risk education, to provide education to all in the Casamance by building a school upon land recently cleared of mines and to promote social reintegration and psycho-social support for survivors. These plans require external support from international organizations and the donor community. To help a survivor establish a small business like Mr. Ba’s bicycle repair shop can cost as much as US $2,000, but the return on the investment benefits not just the survivor and his or her family, but the entire community. To fully develop a cleared minefield can cost upwards of US $300,000 depending upon the usage of the land, but such development would vastly improve the economy of the neighboring village and its inhabitants. ASVM has suffered from irregular financing for its programs which threaten their implementation. ASVM’s mine risk education work is especially important as the demining progress in Senegal has been very slow and subject to numerous delays, bureaucratic and security-related. While mines remain in the ground, mine risk education remains the most important means to warn people of the threat. Additional partners and donors are needed for ASVM to be able to meet this need.
ASVM’s contact information is as follows:
Association Sénégalaise Des Victimes de Mines (ASVM)
Post Office Box 1350
Tel : 77 520 85 55 or 77 520 64 90
Email : email@example.com
Videos featuring ASVM Members: