As a national employee of the UNDP Viet Nam, I have a new understanding of the daily challenges faced by people living in areas covered with mines, and the work that UNDP is doing to try to change that reality. But the fact is, I don’t have the full picture. I was born in Ha Noi, I work in a nice office and spend most of my working day at a desk. It wasn’t until I took my first field trip, that I began to understand the depth of our work.
As a project assistant with the Korea-Vietnam Mine Action project, I spend most of my working days in the office, at my computer. It is my job to make sure that procedures and documents are in order, so that donors and partners know the work that is being done and the results that are being achieved.
In my daily work, I am far removed from the field and the people whose lives we are trying to change with our work. I had never met a UXO victim, and I had no idea how my work contributed to the project or made a difference.
That is why my first trip to a project site in the province of Quang Binh was extremely meaningful. I now understand what land contaminated by bombs and mines looks like, and what it looks like when cleared. I have witnessed the military’s careful and systematic search for landmines. I met local people who still cultivate fields on contaminated land, unaware of the risks they are facing every day. I saw the impact of our work both with the military force working on the ground, but more importantly what it means to the local people, whose safety heavily depends on survey & clearance operations.
We work with the national government and Viet Nam’s Mine Action Center (VNMAC). Mostly, I meet with VNMAC personnel to discuss plans and procedures. In the field, I can see that we are together on a common mission. It is a transformational journey aimed at setting Viet Nam free from bombs, mines and UXOs, in the most efficient and safest way.
VNMAC staff and Vietnamese soldiers tell me that we haven’t had changes in the national survey and clearance Standards Operating Procedures for 16 years. For this project, we continue doing our work the traditional way but are adding a lot of new requirements to ensure effectiveness and efficiency. They say it is a tough task, but they are proud that their work can make a difference to the localities.
This experience made me see that UNDP’s work is meaningful because we are working with VNMAC to transform Viet Nam’s mine action sector. If a leading institution like VNMAC can transform itself, I see it as just the beginning. I can see the transformation affecting the entire Mine Action system in Vietnam. I can see us meeting international standards and contributing to higher ambitions such as joining international peacekeeping missions.