For Land-Mine Survivors in Mozambique, a New Chance at a Whole Life

The world’s oldest land-mine-clearing organization is launching its first custom prosthetics program.

Virginia Pita Masotte (right) was 14 when she lost her left leg in a land mine accident. Beside her are makeshift wooden crutches. (Photo: Fellipe Abreu)

Jan 28, 2016· 3 MIN READ
Fellipe Abreu is a Brazilian photojournalist focused on social issues, conflict, the environment, human rights, and culture in Latin America and Africa.

The morning of May 1, 2009, began as a normal one. Then 12-year-old Alfredo Wireless walked from his family’s humble home in Mocumbura—a community located in Tete province, in northern Mozambique—to attend school about three miles away. That day, his professor announced a special assignment for all the students: Build a cart from found objects near their homes. After school, Alfredo wandered into the woods, searching high and low for various raw materials and pieces of wood. At one point, he found a round metal object he decided would be perfect for the cart’s wheel.

Using a small piece of wire, the young boy gently pierced the object in an effort to pass the wire through it. The explosion happened in an instant—the round object, which was a land mine, detonated and tore through Alfredo’s upper limbs, resulting in the amputation of his hands and forearms. He was also blinded in his right eye.

Alfredo’s story is one of many shared by John Madomal Ojoziva, 42, who has been working on demining projects in Mozambique since 1997 and has seen firsthand the dark consequences of survivors’ injuries.

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“My main goal was always trying to help people who have suffered amputations due to land-mine accidents,” says Madomal Ojoziva, who is the liaison officer at Halo Trust, the world’s oldest and largest humanitarian land-mine-clearing organization. “During all these years, I’ve come across many people who have begged for a prosthesis [in order] to return to a normal life.”

A land mine discovered by Halo Trust. (Photo: Fellipe Abreu)

Despite the end of the country’s war of independence (1964 to 1975) and its civil war (1977 to 1992), Mozambique’s nearly three decades of conflict have left a terrible legacy: thousands of land mines hidden throughout the country, where, for decades, innocent people have paid the high price of war. Halo Trust has been clearing land mines in Mozambique since 1994, detonating and destroying more than 171,000, according to Ash Boddy, program manager of Halo Trust Mozambique. On Sept. 17, 2015, Mozambique was officially declared free of land mines—22 years after the end of the civil war.

Alfredo Wireless with a new prosthetic arm. (Photo: Fellipe Abreu)

However, survivors must live with their injuries for the rest of their lives. In response, Halo Trust created a service project for land-mine survivors, providing them with prosthetic limbs for the first time. In October, 14 survivors—the first beneficiaries of the program—were taken to Zimbabwe for measurements for custom prostheses. By early December, the prostheses had been made, and the project was a success. All 14 received their first prostheses, says Boddy.

Among them was Alfredo Wireless. Now 18, he received a prosthetic arm. “He improved a lot and is already able to ride a bicycle,” says Madomal Ojoziva.

Having spent nearly two decades of his life devoted to the issue of land mines in his country, Madomal Ojoziva is touched by everything he’s seen accomplished—especially when he knows the survivors personally.

In November 2014, his 14-year-old neighbor, Virginia Pita Masotte, had recently married and moved with her husband to Dombe, near the capital of Manica province. “[We] were building our house in Dombe,” she recalls to TakePart. She has a shy, sad face, and her eyes remain fixed on the floor. “One day, I left home to pick up clay to make some bricks for our house. When I was digging a hole to remove the clay, the mine exploded. I do not remember anything after that.”

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Pita Masotte lost her left leg. Her husband abandoned her as a result, and she had to return to her parents’ house. Now 15, she struggles to walk with little more than wooden crutches made by her father. But there is one source of comfort: She will be one of the beneficiaries of the next group of survivors of the Halo Trust. Along with six other people, she will receive a prosthesis for her left leg by the end of January. “Now with a prosthesis coming her way, we have hope that things will get better,” her father says.

Still, many others won’t see assistance in the near future, especially those who live in more remote regions that aren’t served by international organizations or are neglected by the national government.

“I was never approached by anyone from the government,” says one land-mine survivor who declined to be named. “We grew up without understanding what those things were that killed our cows, our relatives, and left others maimed. No one ever came to me to apologize for what happened to me.”