A group of kids are playing with a homemade football, fashioned out of plastic bags.

At first sight, it’s a photograph of childhood innocence. An image of carefree play in a village setting with lookers-on wanting to join in the game. But these children have grown up in a country plagued by fear. The land they’re on, in the village of Chifoio, used to be a minefield.

Angola is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. Forty years of conflict from 1961 to 2002 left the country strewn with an estimated one million landmines and many more unexploded bombs. 

The photograph is part of an exhibition at Manchester Central Library, showing how life in Angola has been affected by landmines. Walk Without Fear features images of the slow work of mine-clearing. It depicts the harsh physical impact these indiscriminate weapons have on people’s bodies and lives. And it also invites us to share in some of the joy of mine-free land, from football games to wedding preparations.  

In Chifoio, the mines have been cleared now thanks to Manchester-based charity the Mines Advisory Group (MAG). They’ve been working in Angola for more than 25 years and have mounted this exhibition to bring attention to the work they’re doing there. “We live without fear,” one child from Chiofio said to the charity in 2017.

MAG wants everyone in Angola, and across the world, to live without the fear of landmines. The exhibition describes their work through the eyes of photographer Sean Sutton, who has been documenting MAG’s work since 1997. It’s a moment of focus for them as they celebrate 30 years of work. During that time, they’ve helped over 18 million people across 68 countries and even been a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Humanitarian charities rarely rest on their laurels. There’s always more work to do.

Next, MAG wants to work with the 60 million people globally who live in fear of landmines today, their children at risk when walking to school and their communities prevented from thriving. They aim to funnel increased awareness (hence the exhibition), funding and political will into countries across the world, with the specific aim of Angola being free of landmines by 2025.

MAG’s work not only removes the threat of wandering over an unexploded device. Clearing the minefields frees up space to be used as agricultural land, enabling people to go on to build better lives and, ultimately, to walk without fear.

By Steve Slack

Images by Sean Sutton for Mines Advisory Group (MAG)

Walk Without Fear is at Manchester Central Library until October 13, 2019.