Although I had a general awareness of land mines, and had followed the effort to ban them, which earned the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, I didn't have a real sense of their devestating effects or the indiscriminate damage they inflict on individuals and communities until I read Henning Mankell's 'Secrets in the Fire'.
Based on a true story, it tells the story of Sofia, a little girl in Mozambique who steps on a landmine. In that second she loses her sister and both her legs.
Although Henning Mankell is better known for his Kurt Wallender detective novels, Sweden's most famous contemporary author spends half of the year in Mozambique where he works with the National Theatre. It's an experience which he's put to good use in writing 'Secrets in the Fire'. It shows a deep knowledge of and affinity for Africa in general and Mozambique in particular, including a sense of the challenge posed by poverty which is so often exacerbated by conflict across much of Africa.
But what 'Secrets in the Fire' does best is draw you into Sofia's experience of standing on a mine and her fight to live and ultimately to carve out a life for herself after her experience. It's a compelling tale of individual bravery and a reminder of the evil of landmines. Intended for younger readers I never had the sense that I was reading anything other than an excellently written, rich and haunting tale of human resilience.
It also got me thinking about the vital work of organisations like the Mines Advisory Group . MAG is an international not-for-profit organisation that assists people affected by landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO - bombs, mortars, grenades). In Angola, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, northern Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Somaliland, southern Sudan and Vietnam MAG is clearing and destroying the landmines and left-over weapons that have made all of these areas unsafe after war.
Their new movie clip is really worth taking the time to watch. It's short, smart and I guarantee it will get you thinking about land mines, in spite of the fact that there probably not on your doorstep.