Project Sekong 2013: The team needs shoes. Could it get more basic than that?

April 27, 2013

Our project in Sekong still has eleven days to go, but I’m starting to reflect on the early days, back in January. An issue this year was quality of footwear. Many of the deminers reported to work wearing only flip-flops. The guys all have calloused feet toughened by years of working barefoot out of doors. For the most part, they can walk through brush and over stubble without concern. And few, if any, have heard of an attribute called “arch support”.

That phenomenon aside…on Day One we bought the guys new shoes. When a few of the deminers argued that their flip-flops were more comfortable, I countered that shoes provide greater safety and improve productivity. In the end, it came down to our banning flip-flops from the field.

In fairness I must acknowledge a few advantages to working barefoot or in sandals. Inevitably shoes get wet and, in this climate, stay damp until dried over a fire. If my feet are in wet boots for several days, I sprout blisters, hatch fungal infections and, if I’m too lazy or neglectful, develop a skin condition best described as “rot”.

In addition, while I’m the best-shod member of the team, I’m the guy most plagued by leech bites, a consequence of those critters squirming through the weave of my socks and burrowing south. I usually don’t notice their presence until late in the day when I remove my boots and discover that I’m wearing bloody socks. Deminers who go barefoot or wear sandals spot their leeches early and burn them off before they draw much blood.

So why get involved in picking footwear for the team? The bottom line is that while the guys do have tough feet, they aren’t impervious to pain and can’t venture into all the places they need to go.

When we do area clearance, we must make certain that an entire parcel is thoroughly searched. Ninety-nine per cent accuracy is not good enough. If the deminers declare an area free of ordnance but have missed a spot the size of a ping-pong ball, they could be setting villagers up for a fatal accident. The only way to accomplish a thorough search is to have the deminers shod in footwear that will protect them from the meanest thorn and sharpest stubble.

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