HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis

by APOPO vzw
Sep 2, 2011

HeroRAT Newsletter - August 2011

Selemani and Abdullah
Selemani and Abdullah

2.6 million meters cleared & counting! 

APOPO’s Mine Action team in Mozambique has ensured the safe return of over 2.6 million square meters of land to date. With the ongoing clearance and release of safe land, a sense of freedom is given back to communities affected by the landmine problem. Families can live on their land again and farm without fear of injury; children can walk safely to school; and community development through agricultural or infrastructure projects is made possible. 

This year, our Mine Action team has already cleared 530,160 square meters of land in the Gaza Province, unearthing 554 landmines, 208 unexploded ordnances and 1,852 small arms and ammunitions in the process. These items have now been destroyed, so no further harm can be caused to innocent civilians living or passing through the mine-affected areas. Find out more about APOPO’s humanitarian demining efforts: check out the Mine Action page of our website. 


A new addition to our Mine Action team

Tesfazghi Tewelde (or Tess, for short) recently landed in Mozambique to take up the role of Program Manager for our Mine Action Program. "I'm very impressed by the extraordinary work APOPO has achieved so far, and the commitment of APOPO in expanding its capacity and productivity to help Mozambique become mine free by 2014," Tess said upon arrival.

The new manager was warmly welcomed at a team-building barbecue, where he emphasized the importance of fostering a healthy team spirit. “Bringing staff together is very important in mine action…due to the size of the operation, and all the different people living and working in one place.”

Before joining APOPO, Tess worked for the operations section of the Geneva International Center of Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), and contributed his technical field experience to the land release methodology. Tess brings to our team 11 years of experience in Mine Action operations in Africa, in both humanitarian and commercial sectors. Welcome to the team, Tess!

Making the move: Mozambique to Thailand

Andrew Sully, our previous Mozambique Program Manager, made the move to Thailand last month to lead the APOPO-PRO Mine Action team in our survey project along the Thai-Cambodia border. Reflecting on the move, Andrew said: “I was sad to leave Mozambique and the people I had known and worked with for three years. So much excellent work and growth had happened during that time, and there still remains so much to do.” What made the move easier was knowing that the program would be in excellent hands with Tess.

Compared with Mozambique, Thailand is a real change for Andrew. While being more advanced in areas such as infrastructure and technology, Thailand’s mine action effort is only just beginning. “Many years with very limited funding have meant that they have been trying to do it on their own, and the result is the very traditional approach,” he said. “This approach needs to be replaced with the Land Release methodology, and this is what APOPO brings with its Mine Action Program.”

This new approach to Thailand’s landmine problem could drastically shorten the lifespan of the remaining minefields and increase the number of cleared mines. It also opens an avenue to encourage more funds, both internal and external, to be spent on solving the landmine problem in Thailand. “It’s an exciting project, as it can make a real difference to Mine Action in Thailand, as well as strongly influence the neighbouring countries,” Andrew said.
The APOPO-PRO team is already making great progress in Trat province, having found more than 140 anti-personnel mines (as well as one anti-tank mine, and 168 explosive remnants of war) during the first seven weeks of non-technical and technical survey. To learn more about APOPO's Mine Action efforts in Thailand, click here.


HeroRATs steal the show at Nane Nane

Each year, all of Tanzania comes together for a week of festivities in honor of “Nane Nane,” a vibrant celebration of agriculture held in the cities of Morogoro and Dodoma. The revelry concludes annually on the eighth day of the eighth month (the name “Nane Nane” itself means “Eight Eight” in Swahili), when farmers, businesses, NGOs, and the general public flock to the local fairgrounds.

APOPO and the HeroRATs joined in the fun as part of the display put together by our partner institution, Sokoine University of Agriculture. Throughout the course of the week, trainers Haruni and John demonstrated the amazing capabilities of our detection rats to intrigued and astonished crowds. Lucky visitors to APOPO’s display were able to witness a mock training session, with one of our rats showing off her detection expertise as she walked along, sniffing out (and digging up) tea eggs filled with TNT.

With hundreds of spectators stopping by to check out our work for themselves, the HeroRATs certainly enjoyed their time in the spotlight and can’t wait for next year’s Nane Nane fair! 


Selemani & Abdullah: Looking back

HeroRAT trainers Selemani and Abdullah have each been working with APOPO for nearly nine years, and have helped us expand while remaining committed to APOPO’s mission. They also share the distinction of being the first Tanzanian trainers to enter the real minefields in Mozambique with their HeroRATs!

When they took on the role of humanitarian deminers in 2003, they were conscious of how important it was, and came to Mozambique feeling both confident and anxious. Selemani remembers, “It was like a dream come true. It was an historic event, because we were the first Tanzanians to enter the real minefields in Mozambique!” Abdullah adds, “I was happy, but it was my first time out of my country, so I was also afraid. There was pressure to show the rats to the world, but because we received training and followed procedures, we became comfortable.”

Along with learning a new language and being far from friends and family, the pair also faced the challenge of preparing themselves to finally enter the real minefields with the HeroRATs – a tough task even after years of training. “When we arrived, we attended a course in mine detection principles and techniques,” Selemani says. “We were shown how mines killed people – we even saw skeletons in the minefields, and old bones with military clothing. It made us afraid, but it didn’t stop us.”

Their determination paid off: on the very first day, the team of trainers and HeroRATs found 10 landmines!
Almost eight years on, Selemani and Abdullah have grown with APOPO and watched the organization grow – and have a few words of advice for HeroRAT trainers who might want to follow in their (careful) footsteps to the minefields in Mozambique. “Our work needs concentration. It needs focus,” says Abdullah. “We need to be cooperative with each other and help each other, because at APOPO, we are all like family.”


Subiaco Rotaract Club goes wild for HeroRATs

On the evening of August 12, more than 200 revelers joined the Rotaract Club of Subiaco in Western Australia for a fantastically fierce fundraiser in honor of – you guessed it – the HeroRATs! As Rotaract is a Rotary-sponsored organization designed for service-oriented young men and women, club members in Subiaco decided to put their principles into action by throwing a great party for a great cause.

The night’s theme of “Urban Jungle” was made complete by a strictly wild dress code and six live performances, including a fire performance troupe, African dancers and drummers, and Brazilian samba dancers. Among the creatively decked-out attendees were safari-goers mingling with animals from the African savanna, adventurers, warriors, and even a giant banana treat (the perfect costume for our HeroRATs)!

In between the performances, club Community Services Director Choy Lin Lee took to the stage to present a slideshow describing the work of APOPO. The untamed enthusiasm of the club and their guests certainly paid off: in total, the Urban Jungle fundraiser raised more than $4,200 for the HeroRATs.

APOPO would like to thank the Rotaract Club of Subiaco for their amazing efforts on our behalf! Be sure to check out the club’s blog post about the fundraiser and spectacular photos by photographer Emiko Watanabe, and read why they chose to support the HeroRATs.

Have you been inspired with a creative initiative of your own? Check out our website for ways to get involved or contact us to share your fundraising ideas.


Every voice counts for GlobalGiving

Our friends at GlobalGiving are working on an exciting new initiative here in East Africa, known as the Storytelling Project: an experiment in collecting community knowledge on a massive scale, and feeding it back to audiences that can use it. Over 20,000 stories have already been collected from 6,000+ community members by asking this simple question: "Tell us about a time when a person or an organization tried to change something in your community." 

The project will soon make its way to Tanzania, and we’re looking forward to hearing stories from our local community about the challenges and the changemakers – and using these insights to create better links between the two. Find out more about the GlobalGiving Storytelling Project here.


Join our online community!

Can’t get enough of the HeroRATs through our website or newsletter? Want to learn more about our rats and the global challenges they’re helping to solve? Join our online community of fans, friends and supporters! By following our rat-tweets on Twitter, and “Liking” our hero fan page on Facebook, you’ll be able to easily see (and share!) all of the latest updates, news, pictures, and videos of APOPO and the HeroRATs. Whether you’re familiar with the humanitarian work we do, or just stopping by for a look at our brave heroes, we’d love to have you join the conversation. Be sure to invite your friends, too! 

Until next month, we send our sincere gratitude for your ongoing support of our heroes!


Warm regards,

The HeroRAT Team






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Organization Information


Location: Morogoro, Tanzania - Tanzania, United Republic of
Website: http:/​/​www.apopo.org
Project Leader:
Paul Delbar
Public Fundraising Manager
Sokoine University, Morogoro Tanzania, United Republic of

Funded Project!

Thanks to 4,673 donors like you, a total of $250,162 was raised for this project on GlobalGiving. Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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