Post-war Desire for Peace Keeps Burning in Quang Tri

Quang Tri Fastening her bucket hat and carefully tucking her khaki chinos into her boots, Nguyen Thi Thuy does a final check before stepping into a bare plot of sandy land. A normal summer day in the coastal commune of Hai An, Hai Lang district, Quang Tri Province is scorching. Work needs to start early in the morning to avoid the unbearable heat. In her hand, a small metal detector keeps buzzing as she swings it slowly over the land, inch by inch. If it starts beeping, Thuy will mark the location with a red flag and her team members will help remove a newly-found bomb and destroy it by the end of the day. Thuy, the mother of a four-year-old daughter, now leads Vietnam’s first all-female mine clearance team, established in 2018 by Project RENEW with the support of the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA). Founded 18 years ago by the provincial authorities, Project RENEW has a mission to remove buried unexploded ordnance from local land using donations from the US Department of State, UK’s Department for International Development, Irish Aid and other partners. The organization has witnessed an increase in women joining mine clearance activities, including mapping UXO contaminated areas and destroying bombs, which used to be considered too dangerous. Some 60 female members are working for Project RENEW on its three main fields in districts of Huong Hoa, Trieu Phong, and Hai Lang. Even the organization's operation manager is a woman. Nguyen Thi Dieu Linh, in her early thirties, looks like any other Vietnamese you see on the street, tiny and humble. In fact, she has obtained essential certificates for an expert in mine action. Under her command, 32 teams are coordinated to survey, plan and operate detonation in accordance with the International Mine Action Standards. Linh is also in charge of building capacity for team members in land release techniques and procedure. Starting work for RENEW as an interpreter a decade ago, Linh at that time did not know her hometown had suffered that much from war legacies. “I was surprised and urged to make a change by joining the mine action team,” she said. Linh is lucky enough to have a supportive family. Her husband took up a mine clearing job several months after their marriage. He now works for the British-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG) as a team leader. “My seven-year-old daughter is super proud of my job. She tells her friends that her mommy can destroy a lot of bombs,” Linh laughed. An all-female landmine clearing team, consisting of 16 members, operate under Linh’s coordination. Their clearance work, covering an area of 95ha, started in February and is set to finish by August this year. So far, some 80 cluster bombs and 100 other UXO have been found and destroyed. Nearly 3,000 locals will benefit from their efforts. Despite being symbolic as it seems to be, the team, in Linh’s eyes, is as normal as others. “It is actually not a manifesto for women empowerment,” she said. “There are all-male and gender-mixed teams as long as they are equipped with knowledge, skills and safety protocols in dealing with explosive ordnance. We are simply doing our jobs to make Quang Tri safer.” (Vietnam News)