In June I had the pleasure of taking part in my first Mine Action Fellows Forum only a month after joining Mines Action Canada as the new Project Officer. The Mine Action Fellows program includes a group of over 80 dedicated youth from around the world involved in the mine action sector, who Mines Action Canada (MAC) supports due to their valuable contributions and voices. Specifically, MAC focuses on including young women in disarmament, since historically women have been excluded from this sector. Gender biases exist in many parts of the mine action sector, and our youth program is one way of countering these biases. These Fellows are either working or volunteering for a mine action organization in their home countries, and many are from mine affected communities. Mine action can include supporting victims of landmines, educating civilians on how to avoid landmines, and clearing landmines in affected communities. This on-the-ground experience makes their input extremely important, not to mention the importance of capacity-building for future leaders in this field of work. Youth of today will be the ones who finish the job, so we should prepare them for it!
Before I took part in this trip, I only understood the premise of the Mine Action Fellows Forum: an opportunity for the Fellows to build their skills, increase their knowledge, expand their networks, and meaningfully engage in international meetings related to disarmament. The forums involve participating in relevant international fora, where governments and civil society gather to discuss disarmament, but also much more. In between meetings, our Mine Action Fellows have the chance to network; speaking to countless experts in the field, as well as diplomats from across the world, to build their knowledge and experience on how progress is really made and build connections with people who are also in the field. Mines Action Canada also organizes learning activities to enhance leadership skills, such as learning more about what type of leader you are. But nothing could have prepared me for how amazing the Fellows themselves really are!
They are passionate about ending the use of landmines, and supporting survivors in their communities. I’m walking away with a deep appreciation of what these youth are capable of -and I can’t wait for future forums!
This Mine Action Fellows Forum took place in Geneva and was held alongside the Intersessional meetings of the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines, also known as the Mine Ban Treaty, and the National Mine Director Meeting. The Ottawa Treaty Intersessionals are meetings related to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty signed in 1997, which bans the production, use, and transferring of landmines. Eighty percent of the countries in the world, 164 states, are now Party to this treaty, making it one of the most widely accepted treaties! Part of the treaty includes a yearly meeting to discuss developments, increase transparency, and push for action. This happens in the form of statements read by individual states, and is led by a panel of states. It’s in between these meetings that the Intersessionals take place. The Mine Ban Treaty Intersessionals are a place for States and civil society to be more “messy” and not quite make decisions yet- then they come back together later in the year for the annual Meeting of the States Parties with their decisions mostly made.
The National Mine Director Meeting is very different from the Mine Ban Treaty Intersessionals. The National Mine Directors meeting is a professional development meeting where mine action workers from around the world come together to discuss best practices. Largely, these meetings involve interesting and informative presentations and then some time for questions and answers.
At the Mine Action Fellows Forum some of the items on our agenda for the week included a tour of the International Museum of the Red Cross, panel discussions with civil society experts, and various peer learning sessions. The International Museum of the Red Cross was a place where the Fellows could take their time to explore the history of aid during dangerous times for civilians. The Museum is very engaging, as throughout your tour, there are life-size video recordings of survivors telling their stories. This makes you face the hard truths of armed conflict. Mines Action Canada also organized two panel discussions with civil society experts from The Landmine Monitor, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, The Halo Trust, and Mines Advisory Group. These discussions were really informal and informative; the panelists talked about the work they do and how they are successful, and the Fellows had the chance to ask any questions they had.
The peer learning sessions are a new addition to the forums after the youth expressed an interest to learn what each other are working on. The sessions included Anderson and Angelica’s presentation on their gender focal point initiative among an Indigenous community in Colombia, and Maria’s presentation on explosive ordnance risk education for children in Lebanon. These presentations were only a small, yet interesting, glance into the great work that the Fellows are doing on the daily.
During this Forum, we also had the unique opportunity to host a reception in celebration of five years of the Mine Action Fellows program. Lots of planning went into this event, and most importantly for the youth, this involved inviting diplomats. During the days leading up to the event, the youth were busy engaging in personal conversations with diplomats in which they had the chance to invite diplomats to the reception and share part of their experience with the Mine Action Fellows program. This was an excellent opportunity for the youth to approach states with something positive to offer, which increased confidence in engaging with States later on for advocacy work. It was important that diplomats were involved, as this promotes strong connections between civil society and states which leads to progress and change. Diplomats were pleased to be invited, and it was a nice change for them to be approached with the promise of food and drinks! The reception itself was a great success, as the Fellows circled around the venue and continued to network with diplomats and civil society alike. It was an excellent opportunity for engagement and celebration!
The Mine Action Fellows are already doing amazing work in their home countries; Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Columbia, and Lebanon to name a few. They are innovative, strong-willed, inquisitive, determined, and fun! It only has taken my first Forum with a small portion of the youth to understand this. Mines Action Canada takes these committed, and energetic youth and gives them an opportunity to be where they deserve to be- actively engaging in meetings, discussing with diplomats, and learning from experts in the field. This is an invaluable experience as it gives the Fellows insight on what happens outside of the field work that they are so importantly engaged in. Returning home with this new knowledge creates an impact in their communities and organizations and learning how to be a part of where many important decisions are made is vital to future leaders being created. It was a pleasure to see how much the youth appreciated and learned from the experience.
Here’s to many more Mine Action Fellows Forums!
Gillian Flude is Mines Action Canada's Project Officer