Monday, April 26, 2010

Afghanistan: Peace? Hear it on the grapevine

Grapevines are now flourishing where landmines once poisoned the soil of war-torn countries.

That's thanks to the efforts of Heidi Kuhn, a mother of four and cancer survivor, who is in the business of hope and change.

Roots of Peace

"Anybody who has been through cancer understands that moment you go under the knife, you make a special pledge in your heart, wherever your heart may be coming from, but mine was: 'Dear God, grant me the gift of life and I will do something special with it,'" says Kuhn.

And she has. Inspired by Britain's Princess Diana, who walked the minefields of Angola and Bosnia in 1997, Kuhn vowed to continue the effort to rid the world of landmines.

"I lifted my glass and said, 'May the world go from mines to vines.'"

So Kuhn founded Roots of Peace, an international humanitarian organization that helps to clear landmines and restores the soil to agricultural use.

"It's taking that first step," she says. "And, just as a child takes their first step, can you imagine the horrors of mothers who have their children tethered to poles because they know that there's a certain radius that they know that their children can play."

Afghans face that fear each day. There are an estimated 10 million unexploded land mines hidden in the landscape.

"When people ask me, 'How can we be working with the military?' I say, 'How can we not?' Because we are working with the Agricultural Development Teams, to teach them how to go into the villages to train the farmers how to grow what they have lost."

Roots of Peace is a family affair. Kuhn's husband Gary oversees operations in Afghanistan.

"It's made a huge impact on their life and now they can share it with everyone else which is our intent. They don't need handouts," says Gary Kuhn. "They just need to restore their livelihood and learn what's the best way to run their crops."

The Kuhn children are also planting the roots of peace.

Brooks, a doctor, is proud of his younger sister, Kyleigh, whose penny campaign raised enough money to build a school in Afghanistan. Christian, the youngest, motivates other American school children to chip in. Tucker works with Vietnamese cacao farmers to turn mines to chocolates.

Heidi Kuhn says removing the seeds of hatred and terror from the ground – planting agricultural alternatives instead – is allowing Afghanistan to move from mines to vines.

"Being a cancer survivor – there's no real cure to cancer. There's no real cure to AIDS but there is a cure to the land mine issue and that is removal," she says.

Eric Bersh
Photo: VOA

Published with the permission of
Voice of America

See also Sydney Irresistible and Mike Hitchen Unleashed
Putting principles before profits