Time out from land mine role

Aslina Steel wore an iPod when she went for a run at Brighton, near Dunedin, on Saturday.

That might not sound out of the ordinary, but for Miss Steel, it is quite a change.

Where she lives, in Nairobi, it is safest not to go running in public, and using an iPod while doing it could invite attack, and was out of the question.

''I usually just have to run around my [apartment] compound, back and forth like a caged zebra.''

Miss Steel (25) is spending two weeks at home with her mother, Brighton Store owner Azizah Steel, and brothers, taking some time out from her job with The Development Initiative (TDI), which clears mines and explosives ordnance in Africa, under contract to the United Nations.

In the summer of 2010-11 the Otago University graduate got an internship with TDI through her father, Dunedin man Marty Steel, who works for another mine disposal company in Africa.

Mr Steel also works from Nairobi.

While based in Kenya, Miss Steel travels to TDI project sites in some of Africa's most hostile areas.

In the past year she has spent time as a UN contractor in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Mali and Somalia and previously spent five months in North Sudan during her internship.

After the internship she returned to Dunedin to complete the final year of her BA degree in politics and environmental management.

In 2012 she completed a postgraduate diploma in conflict and peace studies at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in Dunedin, before taking a permanent role with TDI as a finance and logistics manager.

She also runs the company's Nairobi office and has been training to do education programmes with communities that have no choice but to live in among minefield areas.

She said she knew after her internship this was the job she wanted to do.

Living in Africa and adjusting to the difference in cultures had been an eye-opener, particularly learning to deal with the personal safety issues, including the relatively unregulated driving, and the corruption.

''It's a whole new way of dealing with things.''

Nairobi had been relatively safe, but the climate had changed since the recent Westgate Mall siege, in which 72 people were killed, she said.

She had had a near-miss there, too. She had been on her way to the cafe where some reported the shooting began, but turned back to her nearby apartment for her phone charger when she realised her phone had gone flat.

Nonetheless, she found her job very rewarding.

''I like the sense of knowing you can help people. There are no negative aspects to getting rid of a land mine. It is inherently good. Helping give them access to things like water, which they could previously not reach, every day - wellbeing can be improved.''

She particularly loved going into the field, and enjoyed the mine risk education aspect of the job, which involved teaching people how to live safely around mine fields.

She had not been caught up in any violence.

She had been on the fringes of tension a few times, and had had to deal with a few tricky situations in order to extract equipment, often a target, from areas where logistics were a ''nightmare'' to organise.

Successful missions, she said, often required negotiating through language barriers.

She was enjoying spending a few weeks at home catching up with friends and family, and was looking forward to spending some time in Central Otago.

''I'm here to enjoy an awesome New Zealand summer,'' she said.

-debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz

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