As a mother and CEO, I have walked the minefields of the world to witness the repercussions of war and its devastating effects on children. I have held babies in my arms who have lost their limbs and lives – it only takes eight pounds to detonate a landmine, the weight of a newborn child. From Angola to Afghanistan, Croatia to Cambodia, I have sought grounds for peace by replacing the scourge of landmines with bountiful vineyards, literally turning mines to vines – transforming killing fields into fields of fresh grapes.
This month, more than 180 children have been killed as a result of war in Israel and the Gaza Strip. Next month, I will be a grandmother for the first time, and I cannot be silent about the impact of war on the next generation. It is time to firmly plant the roots of peace on earth, and take a pragmatic approach to healing the wounds of war by removing landmines.
My organization, Roots of Peace, began in September 1997, only a few weeks after the death of Princess Diana. Her legacy was to raise global landmine awareness on behalf of innocent children who traverse dangerous lands. This message resonated deeply in my heart. Landmines are a cancer within the earth, with over 70 million mines still deployed in 70 countries. As a cancer survivor, I looked into the eyes of my own four children in Marin County, California, and imagined a world where children could not kick a soccer ball out of bounds and farmers could not cultivate their fields without the risk of losing limbs. And so I took a bold step beyond my living room to make a difference on behalf of mothers around the world.
Reclaiming land, restoring a legacy
Today, Roots of Peace works in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, removing hundreds of thousands of landmines and reclaiming land for agriculture. Over five million trees have been planted and over one million farmers and their families have benefited during the past decade by growing high-value crops on formerly war-torn lands. Afghanistan was once dubbed the “Garden of Central Asia,” and we are helping to restore this proud legacy to a country where almost 80 per cent of the population is employed in agriculture. Roots of Peace is providing export markets that offer Afghan farmers double the income they would receive from growing opium poppies.
In Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh, Samanghan, and on the Shomali Plains, I have broken bread with Afghan farmers and earned the trust of tribal leaders. And, despite a Taliban attack on a Roots of Peace compound in March 2014, the seeds of pomegranates, apples, apricots and grapes have been firmly planted in the ground to foster an economics of peace for proud Afghan families. Together, we are on target to reap a “harvest of hope” in fall 2014. Shovels are prevailing over guns, creating grounds for peace.
For me, as a mother, it is all about the children. When an Israeli boy named Daniel Yuval stepped on a landmine in the Golan Heights in 2010, he called me to his bedside to help alleviate the suffering of children worldwide due to the remnants of war. Daniel dreamt of a mine-free world, and I vowed to help him. Together, we helped bring forth anti-mine legislation in the Israeli Knesset.
I traveled to the Middle East over a dozen times, and shuttled between the offices of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and those of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Together we worked to secure the safe removal of landmines in the area around Bethlehem.
Eight children had lost their lives in the fields of Husan, a Muslim village located only four miles from where Jesus was born. In May 2013, Roots of Peace engaged Israelis and Palestinians in a historic joint effort to remove landmines and create value from formerly war-torn lands. There are an estimated 1.5 million landmines still buried in the Holy Land today – preventing Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike from walking the earth without fear.
Planting a rose for peace
In May 2014, I had the honor of being invited by His Holiness Pope Francis on a historic visit to Bethlehem, Dheisheh Refugee Camp and Jerusalem, to pray for peace. We planted a white rose at the Manger Square with Mayor Vera Baboun of Bethlehem – also a mother of four. Together, we got down on our knees to plant the rose as a symbol of peace, recognizing both the thorns and the fragrance and beauty of this pristine flower. Later in the day, I planted another white rose in the soil of Israel as a gesture of respect for the things we all have in common, as opposed to that which separates us.
Even as war continues to ravage the Middle East, we must never give up hope. From the heart of a mother, I call upon global citizens to join our humble efforts to firmly plant the roots of peace on earth. The economics of peace are a viable solution to war. Join me, and plant a white rose to nurture the soil, nurture the soul. Together, may we see peace bloom on war-torn lands worldwide.