Bath woman swaps Somerset for defusing landmines in Somaliland

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She has played a crucial role in helping to make the country safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

A woman from Bath who swapped her life at home to defuse landmines in one of the poorest countries in the world during the coronavirus pandemic has been rewarded for her work.

Jane Strangways is based in Bath but spends most of her time in Somaliland in her role as the first female country director to manage the Somaliland programme at the HALO Trust in over 20 years of operations.

Jane joined the HALO Trust, which aims to remove the debris left behind by war, after completing training in Cambodia, Ukraine and Georgia.

In the latest New Years Honours list, Jane was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM), not only for her dedication to provide safe land, but also for the choice to stay and help with the Covid pandemic last year whilst most other organisations evacuated.

There are no ventilators and very poor health services in Somaliland, so this meant this was a big risk for the trust.

Jane said: “We decided to stay because our operations are quite remote and are almost self-isolated in themselves.”

The travel restrictions caused by Covid meant Jane barely saw her family and four children last year.

Instead, Jane and her team spent their time going above and beyond, using their skills, connections and resources to help the local people.

They donated their vehicles to be used as ambulances and fixed their broken ones, recycled their visors to provide PPE to the hospitals and worked with the government to put tannoy systems on their vehicles so they could go out and message about social distancing.

Jane talked to the local hospital and asked them what they needed. The hospital said they needed a triage centre to keep the Covid patients away from the others. Jane and her team immediately built one for them.

Jane said: “It really is an incredibly poor country and the government’s budget is very, very low so they really needed those systems. It was for this that I got the BEM.”

Jane was nominated for the BEM by the British representative at the British Embassy in Somaliland as well as the HALO trust.

She said: “For me, it was very much a team effort, I might have been leading it but it was the guys on the ground who did the hard yards. They gave up their Ramadan holiday which is their Christmas. They stepped up and did a really good job and I’m really proud of what they did. So on their behalf, it was really nice to get the recognition.”

HALO’s shared goal is for a landmine free 2025 for the people of Somaliland. They currently estimate that the 90 remaining minefields could be cleared by 2023, saving lives and securing futures.

HALO has so far cleared an area the size of 30 football pitches around the village of Sayla Bari.

Somerset

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