2015 To Walk the Earth in Safety: Western Hemisphere--Finding a New Future

Bureau of Political-Military Affairs

Date: 2015 Description: A HALO deminer excavates a homemade landmine laid by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Colombia's Narino Municipality. Containing little to no metal components, these landmines are especially difficult to find using metal detectors.  © Photo courtesy of the Department of State.

Marleny Alvarez was born in Argelia, Colombia, in a vereda (or subdivision) called Masones. Many of the 50 families in this vereda were displaced in 2006 and had to move to other areas. Marleny’s family was displaced twice: once from 1993 to 1997 after her father was killed by paramilitaries, and from 2000 to 2009 when the FARC took control of the area. Marleny’s family went to live in Medellin, the second largest city in Colombia. When she returned home in 2009, Marleny encountered HALO Non-Technical Survey teams collecting information on recently placed anti-personnel landmines in the area. These landmines blocked off critical paths in her community, including a path that children traveled to attend school.

After witnessing the challenges her community faced because of landmines, Marleny joined HALO in December 2012 and after nine months of training she started work as a team leader in September 2013. She was promoted to Supervisor in December of that year, working in the El Morro minefield, located near the village of Puerto Venus, a community with 2,300 people. Here, anti-personnel landmines blocked critical paths and preventing necessary travel. HALO prioritized the minefield and, under Marleny’s supervision, the El Morro minefield was the first to be cleared by civilian deminers in Colombia.

HALO began work in Colombia in 2009 and started survey operations in 2010–2011. Following a rigorous accreditation process and the establishment of a legal framework for civilian demining in 2012, clearance operations began in September 2013. Up to March 31, 2015, HALO deminers had cleared 28.2 acres, restoring access to farmland and allowing local people to move freely on previously obstructed paths. A number of nongovernmental organizations are now attempting to follow HALO’s lead to conduct additional civilian humanitarian demining in Colombia.

Marleny is proud to be a part of HALO. She is now working at ‘El Gorgojo’ minefield in El Carmen de Víboral, where HALO’s work has facilitated a government-run housing project to allow the return of 14 families who were displaced during the conflict. She hopes to work in the mine action field for many more years and take part in the demining process of other communities, including in her own hometown.