A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’m calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!
I first learned of PeaceTrees Vietnam because my Unitarian Universalist church donates the proceeds from its collection plate once a month to various charities, and this was the charity in question for January. It’s a Seattle based nonprofit, and it just so happens that an article about it had come out in The Seattle Times that very day as well.
This organization was born out of grief, as many profound things often are. Jerilyn Brusseau, the founder, lost her brother, Dan Cheney, when his helicopter was shot down during the Vietnam War. She knew that her grief was also the grief of countless other families, both in America and Vietnam. Healing was needed. She imagined both groups coming together to turn battlefields into places where new trees would be planted.
Fast forward to 1995, when the United States resumed full diplomatic relationships with Vietnam. That’s when this organization was finally able to take flight, both literally and figuratively. Much traveling ensued to make the necessary connections. The plan had expanded by then, because there is so much unexploded ordinance from the war that nothing could be peacefully planted on these former battlefields, let alone trees.
According to The Seattle Times article mentioned above, the US has dropped three times more bombs on Vietnam than they had on both fighting theaters in World War II. The heaviest bombing occurred in Quang Tri province, which is PeaceTrees Vietnam’s focal point. Only 11 of the 3,500 villages in this province escaped the bombing. The failure rate for these cluster bombs, shells, landmines and grenades was so significant that it’s estimated that 800,000 tons of unexploded bombs were left behind in the country, and to this day they still take out innocent children and farmers who are simply trying to survive to a shocking degree. There is much work to be done.
For the past 25 years, PeaceTrees Vietnam has been doing that work. They sponsored munitions experts to train landmine clearing teams. They educated children and families about avoiding bombs. They opened a landmine education center for children.
As the land began to become habitable again, PeaceTrees began building homes, kindergartens, libraries and community centers. They also have a scholarship program, and in addition they teach farmers how to grow black pepper in the now farmable fields.
I am very intrigued by the citizen diplomacy trips they hold each year. They allow you to travel to Vietnam and meet the people, visit the schools, watch the demining in action, and plant trees. There’s also time for tourism in the large cities. I’d love to take that trip someday. I think it would allow me to see the country in more depth than a simple tourist jaunt would.
The work must continue. Just recently, after some major flooding and the accompanying landslides, seven 500-pound bombs were exposed and had to be dealt with. Only 20% of the land has been cleared.
To learn how you can help support this organization in its noble efforts, please visit their website here. And since you’ve taken the time to read this far, perhaps take a moment to look about you and appreciate the fact that you can most likely walk anywhere in your area without worry about being blown to pieces. It must be terrifying not to have that sense of confidence. People in Vietnam are sometimes blown up while working in their backyard gardens. Next time I’m harvesting my garlic I vow to remember just how lucky I am.
An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5