Don Lauro, Ondas del Cafre, Meta, Colombia
The road to Ondas del Cafre is beautiful but exhausting. The mountains are steep and dark clouds gather. The soils is rocky and, as the rain pours, cold enters every part of the body. This is home for Don Lauro, age 76. He belongs to the Nasa indigenous community and lives in the Ondas del Cafre Indigenous Reservation in Mesetas, Meta Department.
A proud grandfather of two, Don Lauro welcomes HALO surrounded by his family. His eldest son, Ruber, pours a cup of coffee for everyone in the room—made out of their family-grown coffee beans. He shivers as his father begins to recall how, in 2006, a normal day working in their fields turned to tragedy.
“That morning myself and Ruber were harvesting yucca from our plantation. We were both told about the possible presence of landmines in the area but to be honest, what were we going to eat if we could not use our land?”
Land is a source of livelihood for Don Lauro and his family and an important part of the cultural identity and cosmogony for the Nasa people. But this is seen as a threat to Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) who aim to control territory. In the 2000s the presence of these groups became visible in the Ondas del Cafre community.
“The groups and the military were walking through our land more often. I knew they both used anti-personnel mines and that is why I was always cautious.”
Unfortunately, as he worked the field with his son, Don Lauro stepped backwards onto a mine which then exploded. Ruber heard the blast and saw his father on the floor. He instantly knew what had happened and ran home for help.
“My son went home to let my wife know I was injured. She ran to the local hospital in Mesetas to inform them I needed help, which is a very long road.”
The journey to Mesetas hospital is challenging for the Ondas del Cafre community. Don Lauro´s wife had to walk for four hours to reach the closest town and it wasn’t until nine hours after the accident that Don Lauro was picked up with a stretcher from his field.
“The journey was scary for my family, as they were carrying me though rivers and rocks on a stretcher. I remember they were crying and I kept telling them not to cry as I was still alive."
As a result of the blast, Don Lauro lost his left leg but in 2007 he received a prosthetic from a humanitarian organization working in the region which has allowed him to return to fulfilling his passion of tending his crops. HALO’s survey team first visited Don Lauro’s land last year to look for the presence of landmines and a minefield has recently been marked for clearance. Don Lauro now has hope that, thanks to the generous support of The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA), HALO will make his land safe so his family will be able to work their plantations together.
“My biggest fear nowadays is to let my son and my grandchildren go play outside. I cannot feel calm when I see they are walking away from the house. I don’t want anyone from my community experiencing what I did. I just want our territory to be safe again. I want to expand our coffee business and, above all, I want our children to be able to play around freely in nature—what all Nasa children should do to learn to protect our culture and our land.”
This life-saving work is made possible thanks to funding from: The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA).