awareness empowerment

We only reap what we sow... So why not sow peace?

Saturday, June 21, 2014 Joshua Beck

On March 28, a Roots of Peace Compound in Karte Char, Kabul was attacked. This humanitarian organization replants and rebuilds mine fields in war torn areas and makes them into farmland. This is part of their “Mines to Vines” initiative. After the tragic death of Princess Diana, the landmine crisis became abundantly clear to the founder of Roots of Peace, Heidi Kühn. She was inspired to launch her own organization dedicated to helping the victims of land mine accidents by clearing the dangerous regions of mines and planting sustainable crops in their place.

Images courtesy of Roots of Peace

The Taliban used a suicide car bomb and four armed men to invade the Roots of Peace facility and hold 25 foreign residents of the guesthouse hostage for several hours. After the Afghan forces intervened, the attackers were killed, but caught in the cross fire were two innocent bystanders who lost their lives, one was a sixteen year old girl, the other was a working father of three. Although no residents or staff were killed, this incident only serves to magnify the impending danger on high profile targets such as Roots of Peace. This organization has no religious affiliation; however, the Taliban made a statement saying they attacked the guesthouse because foreigners made it into a “church used to convert Afghans.” The group is used solely to rebuild communities, and in no way, threatened the native’s religious values. Despite this unfortunate event, the Roots of Peace staff and volunteers soldier on towards reaching their goal of peace and tranquility in war ravaged countries.

Roots of Peace launched its first major campaign in 2003 by restoring the grape industry in Afghanistan. The organization’s name is based on their “roots” in California’s prime grape growing territory, San Rafael. The grape vine symbolizes the peace and harvest the organization wants to bring to the countries of Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia, Iraq, the Krygyz Republic, Vietnam, Isreal West Bank, and all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Roots of Peace uses three steps to accomplish this complex project: De-mine, Replant, and Rebuild.

The first step is to de-mine. Enemies purposefully plant mines in the fertile soil to challenge the physical and mental limits of the community by monopolizing the areas they would use to grow food. This is especially true in Afghanistan, where originally the grape industry was thriving, but the Taliban incinerated the vines and mined the vineyards. For this reason, it was a very specific area on which the Kühns focused. Thousands of mines needed removal, and this was an expensive process. A mere $3 is enough to insert a mine into the soil, but it costs nearly $1000 to remove it! That doesn’t include the cost of finding the mines, which usually consists of a conglomeration of several slow, pricey methods. The literal extraction of the mine is commonly done by remote controlled, flail tractors which can withstand the impact when the mine detonates; however, if the the ground is exceedingly rocky, it is done through a painstaking process of carefully digging out the mine by hand. Luckily, Roots of Peace is funded by the California wine industry, the U.S Agency for International Development, and several other public and private organizations.

The second step is to replant. Agriculture is not only means of providing food, but also steady work for those in these areas. Planting crops and managing farmland is a lifestyle for the local residents in mine afflicted regions. By providing the finest imported seeds, cultivating the land, and replanting the crops, Roots of Peace helps the locals to start over. What was once a minefield can become a grape vineyard, almond crops, cherry crops, pomegranate trees, apricot trees, and apple trees. Roots of Peace not only provides the farmers with sustainable crops, but also it helps them with business strategies to increase their income. And the last step is rebuilding which is centered around regaining stable mental and physical health for the victims of land mines. Physical, psychological, and social treatment are all applied in order to heal those harmed by the mines.
Agriculture is not only a means of providing work, but also steady work for those in these areas.

Although it is growing daily, it remains a family owned, non profit organization. In 1997 Heidi launched Roots of Peace after beating cancer and realizing how precious the gift of life truly is. She was overwhelmed with inspiration by Princess Diane’s work to eradicate the destruction caused by landmines, and her death brought Heidi’s idea into a reality. The organization was created to perpetuate the influence of Princess Diana and to honor Heidi’s own gratitude for life. She made it a family endeavor by starting it in her own home, and then incorporating her entire family into the enterprise. Her daughter Kyleigh, became an active participant at age 13 when she visited a Balkan minefield with he mother. In tenth grade, Kyleigh joined her mother and ABC News anchor, Cheryl Jennings to launch an initiative to construct new schools and soccer fields for Afghan children, which has since yielded six refurbished and newly constructed schools. Heidi’s son, Tucker, has worked with the organization since the beginning, but he gained a full time position in 2008. He has played an integral role in the expansion and success of their organization by managing Home Office Operations and overseeing worldwide operations. Overall, it has been a familialeffort to build and maintain their organization.

Since its humble beginning, Roots of Peace has succeeded in accomplishing many charitable tasks. Over one million farmers have been impacted by the planting of nearly six million trees which tripled farmer’s income and has saved communities from starvation. Five schools were built and supported thanks to the donation of 50 million “pennies of peace.” People all over the world are eager to help support this massive undertaking, and Roots of Peace has made it so easy, all you have to do is have a smart phone! Kyleigh urges people to go on their social media sites and post an image of a flower or tree with the hashtag, #rootsofpeace. This international cyber chain of support can show how despite the hatred and evil in the world, all it takes is one seed of hope to change an otherwise devastating outcome. “I am choosing to respond with love, light and peace… and I’m asking you to join me. I stand for beauty rather than war, creation rather than destruction, and love rather than hate. Please stand with me in solidarity with the Afghan people, and all people worldwide who have suffered too long withstanding senseless acts of extreme violence. Let’s stand for peace,” pleads Kyleigh.

According to Heidi Kühn, “Over 100,000 landmines and UXO’s have been removed since September 11, 2001—turning seeds of terror into seeds of hope! Cancer is a landmine, and landmines are a cancer to the earth. Yet, there is a cure — removal. As a cancer survivor, I ask that you join me in this global quest for landmine removal.” So, today I implore you to join the Kühn family in their venture and plant your “seed of hope” by posting a photo of a plant using the #rootsofpeace hashtag. This simple act could make a huge difference, and the power is literally in the palm of your hand.

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