di Monica De Astis

 

Millions of landmines spread around the planet. Almost 70 countries and their populations are still affected by them, as stressed by UN.

Because of their curiosity and lack of awareness, children are often killed or seriously injured by landmines.

And this is the reason why Lala Mustafazadeh (31, Azerbaijan) and Nils Hegel (32, Germany) – with a background in crisis management, security studies and the military, decided to develop Mine Mark. Mine Mark is a mine risk education project born in The Hague in 2018, which aims to  bring mine awareness to children and teenagers. As stressed by Nils – deployed to Afghanistan several times in his past career in the German military – awareness in the populations is always a key factor.

Mine Mark has recently started a crowdfunding campaign to be supported until 10 March, and that will help the volunteers to implement their project.

But let’s learn more about Mine Mark, from Lala and Nils.

What was the reason behind your choice to focus on mine awareness?

We were looking for some voluntary work in The Hague, to get engaged in the humanitarian field. We liaised with the Voluntary Network and took part to a research project on Iraq. We realised the gap of projects focused on mine awareness for children, and so we decided to be the ones working on it.

The question we raised was: can we do something to help children endangered because of mines? And what can we do?

So what will you do to bring mine awareness on the spot?

We are doing concrete things. First of all, our products for children: cartoons, videos, games and brochure explaining them what mines are and how to be protect themselves. A few days ago, we launched our crowdfunding campaign, to invest money in our projects – for example, with every 10 euros we can educate and protect a child in Azerbaijan, potentially exposed to landmines due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. And in April, we will be on the spot, to start our awareness projects in several Azerbaijani schools.

How did you select the countries for your activity on the field?

Our initial study was on the landmine situation in Iraq. Yet, our direct connection with Azerbaijan made it easier for us to start with that country, where there are also many landmines.

But we want to remark that mines are not only present in countries far from The Hague – such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran. There are still many mines in the Balkans, in Ukraine, sea-mines between Germany and Finland, just to give some examples.

And in The Netherlands? How will you convince people to support your activities?

We received support from the Venture Academy of Leiden University, the Gemeente, the American School of The Hague and Volunteer The Hague.

With the American School we are focusing on a project to involve children from here in the work of Mine Mark. Pupils between 3 and 18 years old will help us to create an awareness game for the pupils in Azerbaijan.

And of course, our website and presence in the city will definitely help us to spread our message and motivate people to donate for our crowdfunding campaign.

What have you achieved so far as a group? And what’s next for Mine Mark?

We are learning by doing. After three months of lectures and advice at Leiden University, we gained the second place at the Venture Academy 2018, a programme to support students in developing their start-ups. We also received advice from experts from the United Nations at the Humanity Hub of The Hague, and some external advisors are assisting us at the moment.

Our group is also growing with many new volunteers who believe in the project, like Ilaria, Aleksandar and others. We would like to have a small office soon, but our main focus are our projects. We start with Azerbaijan but our dream is to educate children in the 25 countries mostly affected by mines.