E S S A Y S , A R T I C L E S A N D R E V I E W S
From Mines to Vines
by Sharon Abercrombie
EarthLight Magazine #40, Winter 2001
The transformation of killing fields into living fields is the work of Roots of Peace, a non-profit with a mission to help heal the wounds of war inflicted on Earth and her peoples.
When landmines seed the earth, normal life withers and dies. Farmers are unable to plant their crops. Children can't play soccer. Like a deadly, quiet, hidden harvest, the explosive devices lie in wait until a farmer's plow, a child's foot, sets them off. Landmines are the malicious 'gifts' which keep on giving long after a war is over. They maim and kill.
The people of Croatia know this only too well. So do the people of Angola, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Egypt. These four countries are among the most heavily infested in the world. There are some 70 million landmines in one third of the world.
Four years ago, when Heidi Kuhn of San Rafael, California, hosted a reception for a delegation of landmine activists enroute to a talk at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, her heart opened to their cause. Heidi, a cancer survivor and the mother of four children, had been searching for some way to express her gratitude for being alive. Helping rid the world of landmines was something she knew she was called to do.
Since then, much has happened for Heidi. Likewise for the people of Dragalic, Croatia. Thanks to Roots of Peace, the non-profit organization that she founded two years ago to finance the removal of landmines, grapes are growing once more in Dragalic. Pretty soon, kids will have their soccer field back.
With the help of 150 California vintners, individual business people and high-tech companies, Roots of Peace has raised more than $400,000 to help with the United Nation's Adopt-a-Minefield program. Last winter, the UN Development Program cleared a field in Dragalic, enabling vintners to once again cultivate their fields and resume their right livelihood.
Roots of Peace is the first group within the UN landmine adoption program to raise enough funds to finance the removal operations. It costs an average of $30,000 to clear a field because the effort involves bringing in trained sniffing dogs, special field equipment, and intensive labor. From the very beginning of signing on to the UN project, Heidi said she received special energy from the image of transforming killing fields into live, thriving vineyards -- bringing them back "from blood to wine." Last Mother's Day, Heidi saw for herself what that can look like. She and her 13-year old daughter, Kyleigh, visited the Medari vineyard in Dragalic, the scene of Roots of Peace's first minefield cleanup.
"Until five years ago, people there had farmed the land for 8,000 years," she said. Last spring they were able to once again plant their fields, without risk. But the visit also had its share of sadness. Heidi said one elderly woman shared a tragic story. One day she saw her husband of 50 years get blown up before her very eyes. "I hope no one ever again has to pick up her husband in 1,000 pieces," she told Heidi. Heidi personally planted a grapevine -- one she had been carrying around, wrapped in plastic, inside her suitcase. The vine came from a Napa, California vintner.
One of the most fulfilling results to come out of Roots of Peace are its offshoots of generosity which have shown up in the most unexpected places -- like during a shopping trip. Last year, Heidi was getting ready to make her first trip to Croatia. She drove to Oakland to purchase a heavy jacket for the cold wintry weather she would encounter in the European country.
A sign on the door of the outdoor company North Face jumped out at her. It read "Never Stop Exploring." Well, people living in landmined areas would die if they followed such advice, she thought. So Heidi asked to see the manager. She told him about the landmines and ended up asking if he would donate some warm clothing to the people, who, since the war, didn't have much of anything. "In January, the people are freezing," she told him.
North Face responded by giving a substantial donation of jackets and boots. She arrived home in San Rafael, her car jammed with packages. "I invited friends over and we had a packing party." This led to yet another offshoot: Federal Express donating $20,000 to ship the items to Croatia. AutoDesk software, another Bay Area company, donated mobile softwear technology, enabling landmine technicians to locate the landmines at a faster rate.
Judy Jordan, owner of J. Wine Company in Healdsburg, California, established Internet links between students at St. John the Baptist School there and a school in Dragalic. Leslie Kennedy, a kindergarten teacher at St. John's, guided her students in a "warm hugs" fund-raising program. They held a garage sale to help rebuild the school kitchen in Dragalic.
Because of her work, Heidi has received a special commendation from Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations. At this point, some activists might have been tempted to take a well-deserved breather, but not Heidi. Once more she packed her suitcase and headed for Washington, D.C. with activists from the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines and Physicians for Human Rights to lobby Congress about signing on the Mine Ban Treaty. This treaty, crafted by activists throughout the world, is asking nations to stop producing, selling, and using anti-personnel landmines. More than two-thirds of the world's countries have signed on, but the U.S. is still dragging its feet. So, the next step for Heidi has been to increase public pressure by launching an awareness-raising campaign.
To that end, she convinced a San Francisco advertising agency to create and install posters about landmines in 26 bus shelters and BART (subway) stations around the City. Digitas Advertising Agency donated the work for free, said Heidi.
The bright orange signs scream out with attention-getting messages such as "Walking to School May Result in Death or Injury," "Mind Your Children Not Responsible for Loss of Limbs," "Landmine Zone: Pray Before Entering," and "Warning: Jogging May Be Fatal."
To learn more about the Landmine Treaty and how to join Roots of Peace's efforts to heal the Earth, contact Heidi Kuhn at (415) 458-8885; her web site is www.rootsofpeace.org
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