In the mid-1980s, a harsh civil war was waged by Angola’s government forces on the UNITA rebel group. There are still more than 1,100 active minefields across the country, which continue to claim lives, cause injuries, limit agriculture, and hinder development. Esperança Ngando was among the first female deminers to be hired by HALO Trust, a British nonprofit spearheading the fight against landmines in Angola, and is now in charge of three all-female demining teams in Angola.
In the mid-1980s, Angola witnessed a bitter civil war between government forces and the UNITA rebel group. In order to prevent UNITA fighters from advancing and from sabotaging key infrastructure, government forces filled the ground with landmines. When the conflict finally ended, in 2002, with the death of UNITA’s leader and the surrender of his remaining forces, the vast majority of the mines remained intact in the ground.
Decades later, there are still more than 1,100 active minefields across the country, which continue to claim lives, cause injuries, limit agriculture, and hinder development. The 2014 census accounts for about 88,000 people in Angola living with injuries caused by mines and other explosive remnants of war, although the real figure is believed to be much higher.
Clearing landmines is a painstaking, labor-intensive task, which requires immense skill and concentration. HALO Trust, a British nonprofit spearheading the fight against landmines in Angola, has also been fighting the persistent gender imbalance in demining and in post-conflict reconstruction work. In 2017, HALO launched its “100 Women” project, setting an initial goal of recruiting 100 Angolan women as deminers – but has long since surpassed that figure. Today, the organization has nearly 400 female deminers in Angola, with another 35 currently in training. Although most of the more senior roles are still held by men, this imbalance is beginning to change – and nearly half of the deminers working for HALO are now women.
Esperança Ngando was among the first female deminers to be hired by HALO, and is currently in charge of three all-female demining teams in Angola. Esperança, named after the Portuguese word for “hope”, may well embody Angolan women’s hope for radical changes in society: “In the past, people thought this was just a man’s job”, she says. “But we’ve changed that attitude.”
When selflessly embracing this dangerous task, these brave deminers experience not only a sudden adrenaline rush, feeling happy and empowered, but also a steady release of endorphins, with subsequent long-lasting feelings of happiness and fulfilment.
Strong women like Esperança Ngando are truly a source of inspiration and empowerment for other women. They show that, by doing good, one can change the world, and make it a better, safer place – even if it is one cruel landmine at a time. This is the power of compassion.
This story was originally published by NPR.