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Turning ‘Mines to Vines’ in Afghanistan

Uprooting Landmines and Creating Hope with ‘Roots of Peace’

Zeba Magazine, News Feature, Crystal Wicker Posted: Feb 15, 2007

Since landmines were first employed in 1862 during the U.S. Civil War, these underground perils have maimed and killed thousands of people across the globe each year. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan—one of the world’s most heavily mined countries—has roughly 60 victims every month. These days, approximately 70 million landmines exist in more than 70 countries.

wine grapes afghaniRoots of Peace is a humanitarian initiative that toils to eliminate landmines and minefields by converting them into prosperous farmland and communities. Established by Heidi Kühn in 1997 following the untimely death of Princess Diana (who serves as the group’s inspiration for her dedication to international demining), the nonprofit organization is headquartered in San Rafael—the center of California’s rural grape growing region—and subsidized by public and private funding, including the California wine industry.

Its mission is to turn “mines into vines” by implementing a four-step solution: public awareness, landmine removal, rehabilitation for sufferers and land restoration. Agriculture, a crucial routine in mine-afflicted locales, is the principal focus. Victims are hired during the cycle of planting, cultivating and harvesting indigenous crops. “The freedom to walk the earth without fear is denied to innocent farmers and families who try to return to normal life following the aftermath of war,” Kühn says. So quite logically, this is thought to be an efficient method in revitalizing post-conflict circumstances as it rebuilds the local economies and promotes a sense of confidence.

Thus far, the “Mines into Vines” project has earned the commendation and support of 400+ California vintners, the U.S. State Department, UN, ABC 7/KGO TV and a host of other commercial entities. In 2002, Roots of Peace began its work in Afghanistan and has since eradicated over 100,000 mines in the Shomali Plains north of Kabul. Afghan farmers were then able to yield and export more than 90,000 metric tons (198,450,000 pounds) of grapes and raisins to Dubai, India, Pakistan, Ukraine and Russia.

A year later, Roots of Peace commenced a replanting campaign to revive Afghanistan’s once famous table grape industry. The organization, Kühn states, also plants “rice in Cambodia, cherries in Croatia, flowers in Bosnia, wheat in Iraq, and bananas in Angola.” Still, precedence is given to areas based on the extent of social and economic damage.

roots of peace

Contributions for these extensive undertakings are always needed, as it’s costly and dangerous to remove even a single landmine: up to $1000 versus the $3-$30 it takes to make and position one. What’s more, most mines are composed of a non-metallic substance that metal detectors can’t trace, so specially trained dogs are generally used to locate them instead. And in rocky areas, risky hand removal is the only option. Now Global Identification Systems (GIS), a new technology that spots and maps minefields from outerspace, may transform demining efforts. As a result, Roots of Peace has teamed up with Autodesk, a software company devoted to progressing GIS development.

Shamim Jawad, wife of the Afghan Ambassador to the U.S., desires to increase understanding about mine victims as the International Chairperson of the Roots of Peace Penny Campaign: Making Change Work. Founded in 2003 by Kühn, her daughter Kyleigh and Emmy Award-winning ABC news anchor Cheryl Jennings, the Penny Campaign is an annual, student-oriented outreach program wherein pennies are collected to build schools, soccer fields and playgrounds on former minefields in war-torn lands.

Says Jawad of her role: “Being an Afghan, I am hoping to identify the need and assist them on prioritizing and selecting the schools in need of rebuilding or construction. I hope my experience helps improve the lives of innocent children living in neglected regions. Through our partnership, we ideally hope to expand the program beyond the San Francisco Bay Area to extend across the United States. Ultimately, we hope that the children of the world will join our efforts as they collect ‘pennies for peace,’ ‘paissa for peace’ and other small denominations of funds that will allow Afghans to turn their dreams into reality, one minefield at a time!”

The Penny Campaign has already accumulated more than 10 million pennies. All proceeds were used to clear a minefield near the Bajgah village school in northern Afghanistan, repair soccer fields at co-ed institutions in Bagram and construct new classrooms at a tent school in Mir Bocha Kot. “The beauty of this program,” Kühn points out, “is that ALL children may participate, and even the smallest penny may join with millions around the world to transform toxic minefields into soccer fields and schools where childhood dreams may be restored.”

“As we leverage our model programs established in Afghanistan, perhaps one day we may create an army of Roots of Peace-keepers who comb the land by removing mines and planting alternative agricultural crops for future generations,” Kühn adds. And just as the grape vine represents the celebration of life and the vine historically symbolizes harmony, Roots of Peace brings the promise of a safe, happy and more peaceful tomorrow.

Roots of Peace has received prestigious accolades such as the 2005 World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (WANGO) Award for Peace and Security in the Dominican Republic and this year’s $765,000 Skoll Foundation Award for Social Entrepreneur. Additional information is available at www.rootsofpeace.org or by calling toll-free 1-888-ROOTS-31.

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