LEBANON: A Widow’s Remarkable Tale
In 1977, Em Saoud Mashmoushi witnessed her husband being shot and killed outside their house in Bsaba village in the Chouf Mountains.
Two months pregnant with the couple’s ninth child, she was also hit in the back by a bullet, but miraculously both she and the baby survived.
In the 1980s, she appealed to the Lebanese army to clear her land of landmines. She was told there were not enough men or equipment to do so. Em Saoud was determined to keep the small store running, despite having to travel halfway across the country to collect supplies. Being denied the right to stay on her own land was the same as being denied the use of a part of her own body, and she could not bear to raise her four boys and five girls away from their rightful soil, nor be unable to grow fruit and olive trees as they had done before.
Then, one day in the early 1990s, as she was passing through the coastal town of Saida, she saw a few local men digging in the ground by the road. She stopped to ask what they were doing and was told that they were looking for landmines.
Em Saoud asked them to teach her how to do it and when she returned home she began the extremely dangerous task of clearing her own land herself.
She would wait until her children were at school before she went to her property to start the day’s work. Using only a knife, she would dig out the earth and whenever she uncovered a landmine she would leave it for some of the local men to destroy at the end of the day.
In a flat and open part of the land she was able to use a small bulldozer-like machine to hit the ground and destroy the buried landmines.
By the time Em Saoud reached the outer boundary of her land in 1997 she had found 15 mines and two other items of unexploded ordnance (UXO). She had also witnessed three accidents, fortunately only involving a donkey, two goats and a cow. But Em Saoud also knows three people who have been killed or injured by landmines in her village.
Removing indiscriminate weapons
In 2007, MAG was tasked by the Lebanon Mine Action Center (LMAC) to gather data in Em Saoud’s area. As a result of many unfulfilled past promises from local authorities, gaining the trust and support of the local residents required diligent Community Liaison, patience and time.
In the area of Em Saoud’s house and land, MAG cleared 6,310m2 down to a depth of 20cm, using manual clearance, mine detection dogs and mechanical clearance methods. Four more landmines as well as two items of UXO were found and destroyed.
She adds that the donors who made this work possible certainly gave their money to the right place, as she can’t imagine anything sadder than losing a family member, especially a small child, to these indiscriminate weapons.
With the meager income from her shop, rebuilding the house took nine long years and was only completed in 2006. After 15 years, the family finally had access to their home.
“My children are as one. They all help each other, supporting the one most in need to make sure they all reach their goals in life,” Em Saoud says. Her foremost goal has always been to provide her children with an education. It is with pride in her voice that she talks about them now having careers in designing, engineering and pharmaceuticals.
With a larger store having opened across the street from the shop, business is not as good as it used to be. Despite this and the fact that her children are urging her to finally retire and rest, she still maintains her small store, employing a woman suffering from cancer to work behind the counter. Em Saoud has a kind heart to match her courage.
When asked how she feels about MAG working in the Chouf, the shopkeeper replies that every day she prays for the safety and wellbeing of the deminers and jokingly adds that if they ever need another deminer she is ready to join MAG!
Thanks to both her own efforts and the hard work of the MAG teams, today Em Saoud can truly call her land what it has always been to her heart: a safe area.
|Photos by MAG Lebanon|
|28 July 09|