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Zika`s story

In Bosnia and Herzegovina today we still face many problems which are a direct result of the past conflict. The processes of reconstruction, repatriation, rehabilitation and reconciliation have begun but they are all slow processes. In many areas of the country they are slowed down even further by the threat of land mines. Not only do these deadly weapons hamper progress, they continue to kill and maim many years after the war. Thanks to the generous support of your country and others we are striving to clear our country of landmines. I am sure you are all aware of some of the horror stories, for a change I would like to give you a more positive story. I would like to introduce you to a young colleague of mine who is currently implementing some of the money donated so generously by the American government through the International Trust Fund. A young man who epitomizes all that is good about our country, a young man who, I hope you will agree, has earned your support. 
  
My young colleague is a modest young man who would not like to be singled out as an example, he sees nothing extraordinary in what he is doing, he considers that he is only doing his best for others less fortunate than himself. Although I think that what he does is extraordinary I respect his feelings so I will just refer to him by his nickname, Zika.

Zika is a young man from Pale who graduated as a mechanical engineer and was working as a construction engineer at a factory in Pale when the war broke out in 1992. Like most young men of his age he was conscripted. In April 1994 one of his colleagues was shot by a sniper at night while crossing a minefield, Zika went out to rescue him and while kneeling down to lift his colleague he knelt on a PMA 2 mine. As a result of this accident Zika suffered a mid-thigh amputation of his left leg.

He was treated initially at the military hospital in Pale and then transferred to the hospital of the military academy in Belgrade where he was eventually fitted for his first prosthetic leg. This would have stopped most people but, once he had recovered, Zika began to equip himself for life under changed circumstances. When I met him in 1998 he said to me, 'you have to understand, this is my new life and I am only four years old.'

 With 3 friends he established a computer company with the intention of providing computer training courses to the local population. That company has now successfully trained more than one thousand students and provides multi-media presentations in the local community. However, as with most amputees and their initial prosthetic it was not always easy for Zika to get around, an initial prosthetic normally requires changing within the first year, once the stump has toughened. As a result of a poor economic situation and high unemployment many hundreds of amputees in Bosnia and Herzegovina never even receive a first prosthetic.

 Modern technology was not readily available in the immediate post-war period and Zika's colleagues all contributed to a fund which sent him to Australia to be fitted for a more modern prosthetic. Zika returned to his 'new life', conscious of the debt he owed to his friends and more committed than ever to help people in his local community, not surprisingly he was particularly interested in educating people about the dangers of landmines.

In 1997 Zika and two of his colleagues were selected for training in the use of a multi-media mine awareness system which had been donated by the US Department of State. In fact he needed very little training and, almost immediately, he began to use the system to provide mine awareness sessions in the immediate area. Pale is a mountain community with high unemployment and limited facilities. Zika exploited any opportunity to put across the message about mines, even when there was no funding to support the programme.

In 1999 the World Bank issued bidding documents for a mine awareness programme, Zika and his colleagues formed an agreement with another group from the west of the country and successfully bid for the contract. In America today your children learn many things in school, but, apart from the normal curriculum, our children must learn about the danger of landmines. Mine awareness teams travel throughout the country reeinforcing the message about the danger of mines, but also collecting information on the mine situation from local communities which is then passed on to the mine action centre.

That programme, funded by a Canadian donation through the World Bank, is running today, educating school children, factory workers, hunters and fishermen and rural communities about the ever present danger that could take away their lives and limbs. New information on the localised mine threat is reported to the mine action centre in order that it can be prioritised for clearance when assets become available. Mine accidents have been reduced, but unfortunately not stopped.

Running a successful computer company and now a mine awareness programme would satisfy most people, but not Zika. He believed there was still more that he could do. In the spring of 1999 he registered the first national non-governmental demining organisation in Republika Srpska. Its objective is to undertake demining tasks on a non-profit making basis, based on business-like principles and concentrating on safety, quality, productivity and cost-effectiveness.

From small beginnings great things may grow. Supported by a US Department of State donation through the International Trust Fund StopMines is proving to be very effective. With only 12 deminers StopMines has already cleared more land and destroyed more mines than some much larger organisations have cleared in ten months. Co-ordinating its activities in mine awareness with the commercial demining companies working in the same area StopMines is able to increase the effectiveness of all mine action and supplement the scope of work of the commercial contracts with its own teams. In this way additional smaller mine fields that are identified while other contracts are underway can be tackled promptly, without waiting for the next round of commercial contract awards.

This schedule would be enough to exhaust most people but Zika is an exceptional character, he still believes there is more that he can do. However, in August he did allow himself one day off - to get married, but he was back at work the next day.

But marriage is not likely to slow Zika down. His policy is to provide employment opportunities for other mine victims whenever possible and he is currently working on plans for a building with accommodation and office space for five amputees from his local community. He also has plans for the accommodation which demining teams rent when they work in rural communities. If he can find a generous donor to provide some laptop computers he plans to provide computer training courses for rural landmine victims in their own areas, utilising the accommodation which will be empty while the deminers are at work. No doubt once he has achieved that aim he will have another new idea, one thing is certain, Zika has not allowed his disability to destroy his life, in fact it appears to have inspired him.

 Recently Zika completed an explosives course provided by the Chinese government in order to increase his understanding of the management of mine action and is back at work in Pale. Demining and training will continue throughout the winter when the weather permits and the mine awareness programme will continue as long as funding is available. I think you will agree that for a young man of just four years old he has accomplished a lot and, knowing him as I do, he still has a great deal more to accomplish.

With the generous support of international donors, and in particular the American support of the International Trust Fund, committed young men and women are striving to clear our land of the hazards of past conflict. I have used the story of my young colleague to illustrate the dedication, determination and bravery of some of the young people who are struggling to build a safer life for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We have the will but not yet the means to create that future. With your continued support we can ensure that safer future for our children, for Zika's young nephew and perhaps one day for his own children.

By the end of June 2000 the 12 deminers of StopMines had cleared 275.000 square metres of land and had destroyed 475 mines and 68 UXO. The difficult and dangerous work continues but Zika now has another reason to continue with his fight against the scourge of landmines. On 20th February Zika and Gordana became the proud parents of a beautiful baby daughter. With the continued help of the international community perhaps Zika will one day be able to show Marija the woods where he picked mushrooms as a child and teach her to ski on Jahorina in safety.


Source: BH MAC
 

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