An Interview with Danaan Parry and Jerilyn Brusseau
I had a friend who was drafted to serve in the war in Vietnam in 1970. His military job was to pack corpses of soldiers into body bags and load them onto cargo planes that were bound back to the United States. Another friend was drafted to serve in the muddy fields of Vietnam. For weeks at a time, he lay on his belly, weapon in hand, waiting. For what, I'll never know. He didn't talk about it.
The Vietnam War was finally over. Our friends returned, never quite the same. Their embraces were tight, they wore half-smiles. Their thoughts were distant. Their eyes were dimmed, as if they fought to hold back the horrific scenes that raced across their minds. War is a terrible thing. I hate it.
Here it is, 25 years later, and the same war is still claiming victims. Thousands of land mines were left behind, buried in the fields and forests of Vietnam. Little children are being blown upat the rate of about one a weekwhile in the midst of performing their daily routines. They cannot plant rice, pick up firewood, or play without fear of setting off a land mine. The people of Vietnam desperately need the chance to rebuild their lives and their land again.
Danaan Parry and Jerilyn Brusseau are co-directors of the Peace Trees Vietnam Program, a unique solution to the land mine problem. Danaan Parry is known by most as the founder of The EarthStewards Network, an international group which works to promote peace between people and countries, and to heal the planet.
Jerilyn is the founder of Peace Table, an international organization dedicated to culinary diplomacy. She is the co-founder of the global training program for gender co-leadership: Essential Peacemaking/Women & Men.
Candy: How was the problem with leftover active land mines brought to your attention?
Danaan: The Earthstewards Network has been working in places of violent conflict for quite some time: Northern Ireland, the republics of the former Soviet union, and so on. We have seen the devastating effects of land mines in many parts of the world, not just by seeing crippled children, but in places where we couldn't do our work. There were areas of deforestation that we couldn't reforest because of the land mines.
We began to understand how devastating land mines really arenot only to human lives, but to the economy of a third world country that is trying to recover from a warto the psychology of people who live in an area where they can no longer farm their land, and their children are killed or maimed in the fields. It's like starving while looking at a full table! We ran into this problem all over in Afghanistan, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East. And then we got a look at Vietnam.
Jerilyn: Last July, the normalization of relations with Vietnam was announced by President Clinton. It opened a doorway to the possibility of a Peace Trees project in Vietnam, which is something we've been dreaming of for years! We consulted with the Veterans of America Foundation when we began the Peace Trees program, and learned that one of the biggest problems the Vietnamese people are facing is the presence of land mines. It was clear to us that the Peace Trees program could be an important expression of reconciliation and goodwill. Now we're taking the step to sponsor this program for land mine clearance and reforestation so that it can become a model for similar projects needed throughout Vietnam.
In a personal way, I've had a dream for 27 years of being a part of doing something good to help and heal in Vietnam. My brother was a helicopter pilot who was killed in the Vietnam War. The possibility of doing the Peace Trees Vietnam has very deep meaning to me. Danaan has had a passion for the land mine dilemma all over the world. He's been involved with land mine experts worldwide for a number of years, and has paid close attention to the escalation of the problem and the possible solution to it.
Danaan: We have an incredible unhealed wound with Vietnam. If we don't look at that wound, we won't go anywhere as a country, because it's our shadow. Peace Trees Vietnam is a place to look at our shadow.
Jerilyn: It's also an incredible opportunity to begin to heal the wounds of war and to mend the broken circle. I just spent last month there, and it was a tremendously transforming experience for me. The Vietnamese have an openness, a fervent desire, to close the past and open the future, and find a healthy way to rebuild their country. They accept us so openly and warmly. They've really put the war behind them.
Candy: How many leftover land mines are still there?
Jerilyn: In the particular pr-vince where we're going, Quangtri Province, there are 58,000 landmines, according to a study done by Oxfam released in January 1996 in Hong Kong.
Danaan: In all of Vietnam there are an estimated one million landmines left over.
Candy: How long will it take to remove them all?
Danaan: That has to do with how much land we can cover, and with how much money we have to work with. Here's the plan. There is an old U.S. military base at Khe May, on the outskirts of the main town of Dong Ha. We will de-mine, then create a Friendship Forest near the former Khe May combat base. We're doing it for a couple of reasons. Our forces ringed it with land mines as a protective measure. The Vietnamese also put land mines there. It's a mess. For years, kids have had legs blown off around that base. We've also chosen that spot because it is the apex of a valley that comes down from Laos, out of the mountains, where it opens up and empties into the sea. The problem is that the hot winds that blow out of Laos in the summer used to be stopped by the forest in the valley. Now there is virtually no forest because of the carpet-bombing in the area, almost every tree was killed. It's still a barren land 25 years after the bombings. The temperature has increased ten degrees. The hot winds are drying up the rice paddies and changing the environment from what was subtropical into desert. Twenty-five years from now, it will be a desert environment. In this area, we will plant the Friendship Forest. This will be the first step to reforestation of the valley. This year, we estimate that we will be able to plant approximately ten acres of forest after we have cleared the area completely of land mines and other unexploded, leftover ammunition.
This land mine clearance will be done by a team of the best experts in the world. Many of them have spent 30 years in the military of the USA or Canada, and now they see this as an opportunity to use their skills and training for doing good in the world. These experts will check and verify the demining work of the Provincial militia, and then the land will be plowed in preparation for the planting of the forest.
Candy: How are you generating your funds from for the project?
Jerilyn: We need $200,000 for this project. The fundraising strategy is in three parts.The first level is with corporations. Members of the Peace Trees Advisory Team are adopting corporations with which to create partnerships. Many corporations that care about social responsibility are helping the children of Vietnam through this project.
The second part is a grassroots fundraising, called, "Please Buy A Land mine." It's a campaign in-tended for people from all around the world to participate by sending in whatever contribution they can. The money will be used for the removal of landmines and the creation of the Friendship Forest Park. We take contributions of any amount, knowing that there are people from all walks of life who have been impacted by Vietnam. This enables them to be a part of the healing by sending in anything from a dollar on up. We have a page in the Worldwide Web, called, Peace Trees Vietnam (www.socrates. com/peacetrees), which teaches about planting trees where land mines used to be. We're asking people who wish to become involved to send in a contribution and have their names as part of the Friendship Scroll in the Peace Park.
The third part of fundraising is through local action, by holding events, concerts, and neighborhood potlucks. We can arrange for a member of our advisory team to speak to groups of people this way.
Candy: What else can you tell us about the Friendship Forest Park?
Danaan: Forty Vietnamese and forty people from all over the world will be working, living, cooking, and eating side-by-side for three solid weeks. Making this park will create some very deep friendships! We have a Peace Trees Program which is really an intense process where people go through their "stuff" with one another. We don't just plant trees! We do conflict resolution courses at night, even male-female conflict resolution. It's also a time for cross-cultural education. It will be interesting to see how many peacemakers come out of this project, and what they will do next. We'll be encouraging the team to take on other projects and make a difference!
Jerilyn: This is our 20th Peace Trees project! One of the important elements of the program is the strong focus and emphasis on sharing and learning about our own cultures. Each country that is represented will cook food from their own country for the group and share their traditional dance, music, and art so that each person is a unique part of the team. They are, in a sense, an ambassador and spokesperson for their own culture. People of all ages will attend. It's inter-generational! These will be the people who want to be a part of bringing healing to the land and helping to build something a positive legacy.
Candy: That's great! I know it happens every time you do a Peace Trees program. It's like a healing circle around the world.
Jerilyn: It really is!
Candy: What's disturbing to me is reading about the plans the United States has to export new high-tech mines within the next two years. What can we do to prevent this?
Jerilyn: One of the most important aspects PeaceTrees Vietnam focuses on is bringing attention to the international ban on land mines.
Danaan: It isn't enough just to take the mines out of the ground. We've got to stop making them! We support the International Campaign, which is a campaign to ban land mines. The problem is that people just don't know what's going on. The reason why land mines are becoming something that people are aware of is because of work done by organizations like ours. The media is also helping bring in the consciousness.
The ultimate goal of Peace Trees Vietnam is to bring visibility to this deadly problem. We can bring this information to our Congress, to the United Nations, to Geneva, to the World Court, and really make a difference. The next step is to support the total ban of land mines!
There will be a fundraising concert at Seattle Unity Church on April 22, featuring Danny Deardorf, Eric Tingstad, and Nancy Rumbel. Admission is $12.To contact Peace Trees, write or call The Earthstewards Network, P.O. Box 10697, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110; (206) 842-7986. International Campaign To Ban Land mines: Jody Williams, coordinator. Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, 1347 Upper Dummerston Rd., Brattleboro, VT 05301. (802) 254-8807.