ITF Enhancing Human Security - a global leader in the elimination of landmines
ITF has raised US $400m in donations, cleared more than 135 million square metres of land, and expanded its operations to Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East and Latin America since its inception. Ambassador Damjan Bergant, ITF's Chief Executive, speaks to The Slovenia Times about how a small operation has carved out an oversized role for good in the world.
What makes ITF unique among the world's de-mining organisations?
The first unique point is that we come from a small country -a country that has not been troubled by land mines. The history of the former Yugoslavia forced us to tackle this issue and in 1999 Slovenia wanted to help Bosnia-Herzegovina with its post-conflict rehabilitation, and that's how we began. Another unique factor is that we are a small institution with only 12 people working full-time for ITF in Ljubljana, but we have deployed our US $400m in global funding for more than 3,500 projects around the world.
What is the key factor which has made ITF a global success story?
One of the leading elements is transparency. Every donor, that is every country that contributes humanitarian aid, wants to know where the money goes. ITF has built a strong record of transparent work over the past two decades and now we enjoy a reservoir of trust. We follow each and every dollar, each and every cent, and we can report back to the donor at any time on where the money is.
How has a humanitarian group from Slovenia attracted donors from around the world?
It was actually a coincidence. When we started to work in 1999, Bosnia was the focus of the international community, everybody wanted to help and the first area in the post-conflict rehabilitation was de-mining. We were among the first and then we became the most trusted and that's how we started to work with these big countries - the United States, Canada, Japan, Norway etc. When we start to work in other countries, our donors went with us and now we are working with the Canadians, Japanese and Americans in other parts of the world - from Afghanistan to Colombia.
Please share a bit more about your expansion around the world.
We started in South Eastern Europe, in Bosnia and the countries around Bosnia. We then expanded to the South Caucasus, to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Our work then went further: to Central Asia - to Afghanistan; then the Middle East, where we are present in Gaza, in Lebanon, Jordan and also indirectly Syria. Now we have started interesting projects in West Africa, Colombia and Ukraine. If you look at the map of the world, ITF is working in all continents except Australia.
ITF adopts a holistic approach to community healing and rebuilding, how do you approach this?
Our work started with de-mining and everything connected with landmines. We then started to work with war victims, those wounded by landmines. Next we expanded those activities to other fields of human security, the first being psycho-social programs for children affected by war. For example, we run such healing programs in Ukraine and every year we bring almost 80 children from Eastern Ukraine to Debeli Rtič in Slovenia for this emotional rehabilitation.
What is your greatest achievement at ITF?
Definitely the greatest achievement is that we have almost 30 partners - donors - that means 30 countries supporting us. We need partners to do our work. The numbers testify to our results: more than US $400m in donations; over 135 million square metres of land cleared which can now be used for farming, housing and economic activity. Then there are the people rehabilitated by ITF - more than 1,500 people with a chance for a normal life and last but not least, I would end where I started, our biggest achievement is that we come from a small country and we are doing big things.