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Jose Felisberto - Angola

When I was 7 years old, I was playing with a few friends of mine and we found a hand grenade which was in a garbage bin. We didn’t know exactly what it was and we played with it, passing it around amongst ourselves, hand to hand. Unfortunately, when it reached my hands, it exploded. As a result, I lost my two arms from the elbow down and the vision in my left eye.

My mother wasn’t at home, so the neighbors took me to the hospital. I spent more than two months there. Since I couldn’t go back to school, I started to train myself at home to be able to survive. I was able to do this because of the support of my family and one neighbor. This training enabled me to go back to school, where I managed to catch up with my studies like any other student. At the start, my condition made my friends a bit reluctant to be near me and to play with me, but we all learned together how to live with my handicap after awhile.

At the same time, at home, I made my first attempts to draw. These were initially drawings of boats, cars, airplanes, people and images from my surroundings. Later, I tried to draw the numbers on football team uniforms and to try and “tattoo” my friends. After finishing high school I turned to Social Sciences studies. But, due to my family’s lack of money, I couldn’t continue the studies all the way through. So instead, I stayed at home and discovered sports - namely swimming and fishing.

In 1998, I had to leave my wife and my only daughter to move to Luanda, the capital of Angola, to look for a job. But, it was difficult and I couldn’t find any jobs. Frustrated, I approached the Angolan NGO Lardef, which works with disabled people. The NGO encouraged me to take swimming lessons and to seriously train in swimming. My training continued for one year until September 1999. I then joined the Angolan team to participate in the Pan-African games that took place in Johannesburg, South Africa.

On March 1, 2000 UNICEF and some NGOs and government agencies organized a cultural evening to commemorate the second anniversary of the Ottawa Landmines Treaty. I was invited to display my works of art as part of the exhibition. There I met with Handicap International people who asked me to design a comic book carrying mine awareness messages for them aiming to alert Angolan children about the danger of landmines. I also struck up a relationship with some people from UNICEF who have helped make my trip to Geneva possible. These days, I’m living with my wife and two daughters in Luanda. I recently recorded one CD (with the support of a BBC correspondent) of songs about landmines called “New Millennium Without Mines” - all profits will be donated to the Banning Landmines Campaign.”

View the next profile: Sergei Shargaev

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