October 8, 2014

We've Moved!

Our blog can now be found on our new website, here.    We hope to see you there!

August 18, 2014

Navigating Nicaragua: A Lesson In Getting Lost

A motorcyclist drives past a mural of revolutionary heroes in Managua, Nicaragua. Most streets in the country don't have names. People give directions by using reference points, mostly Lake Managua, when in the capital. Carrie Kahn/NPR

August 16, 2014
One of the most popular songs by the Irish band U2 is about a place where the streets have no names. That place could be Nicaragua, the small Central American nation where I just got back from a reporting trip.
While major boulevards and highways do have names in Nicaragua, and some buildings even have numbers, no one uses them. So if you are trying to get around or find an office building, let's say to interview someone, then you're in trouble.
The way to navigate Nicaragua, I quickly learned, is by reference points. When in the capital, most involve the lago, Lake Managua. Two blocks to the lake, then go three blocks south and one down. Lost? I was, constantly.
But I had help from my Nicaraguan producer, Dorisell Blanco, who thankfully also did all the driving. Her address: Start from the place where all the journalists live, head south to the entrance, go two blocks down, one to the south, two more down and then almost to the corner to the green wall.
That address is what's written on all the bills that come to her house and in the phone book. "God help her the day they paint that wall a different color than green ... everyone is going to get lost," Blanco says.
But people don't seem to get lost, and the mail and pizzas get delivered. The firemen also get to the fires, insists fire chief Francisco Reyes.
"We're all used to it ... so it's hard just for the out-of-towners," Reyes says. Though he admits he has received some odd directions. Once a dispatcher gave him the reference point, and then said from there go three blocks down and three blocks up. He was back where he started.
If that isn't mind-numbing enough, there are two more complicating factors when getting directions: the vara and what I call the donde fue. Vara is an old Spanish measurement that turns out, depending where you are in the world, is about a yard. People will tell you often to go two varas south and then one vara north. It's used interchangeably with a block, but a much shorter distance.
The donde fue direction, now, that's the toughest. That's a reference for something that used to be there. For example, the church that fell in the 1972 earthquake or a supermarket long closed, but everyone used to go to.
But here's the best part of the system: It works. That's because everyone helps out. Once you get close to your reference point, you start asking for directions. Everyone we ever asked was very willing to help. The direction discussion usually turned into a five-minute ordeal, not efficient at all, but always, always, extremely friendly.

August 13, 2014

Friendship Tours' student brings clean water to Rwanda

Clean water for all.

In January sixteen-year-old Cole Kawana joined a school trip to visit Network for Africa’s projects in Rwanda. But before he left Los Angeles he spent months researching the everyday challenges faced by people in developing countries. One of those stumbling blocks, Cole knew, was lack of access to clean water.

Cole demonstrates his water filters to Aspire staff and participants.
Cole found a potential solution: a water filter that could serve 100 people for up to five years, removing 99.9% of harmful bacteria. It uses no chemicals, and relies on gravity to force the unclean water through the filter. Each filter costs £30/$50, which works out as 50 cents for five years’ worth of clean water for each person.

Cole asked Network for Africa if he could run a pilot project with our partner Aspire in Kigali. Cole then raised enough money to buy twelve filters, and warned us to have dirty water and five-gallon buckets at the ready. Once Cole was in Rwanda his school group spent time at Aspire, watching the Aspire team as they taught local women about health, hygiene, nutrition, First Aid, and about their legal rights. He also saw women being trained in hairdressing and cookery.

When Cole’s moment came, dozens of people gathered around to watch as he demonstrated how to use the filters. It took only 20 minutes to turn dirty, cloudy water into clear water suitable for drinking. Cole then trained several members of the Aspire staff to use the filters, and they have since taken them to schools in the area. The filters were so popular that when he returned to California, Cole raised money for a further twelve filters, which were taken to Kigali by representatives of Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation.

Cole holds a jar of dirty water next to a jar of purified water.
Cole is now setting up his own non-profit, Clean Water Ambassadors. He intends to produce an online demonstration, with Skype tuition sessions on the proper maintenance of the filters. His ethos is not to spend money on postage or air travel: he will rely on people traveling to parts of the world where the water filters are needed, and connecting with local non-profits they already know.   Since his visit to Aspire earlier this year, Cole’s filters are now being used in Tanzania, Uganda, Belize and Fiji. Network for Africa is proud to have played a part in the birth of an smart solution to an age-old problem.

August 7, 2014

Nixon reframes Watergate scandal in rereleased 1983 interviews

President Nixon's farewell on Aug. 9, 1974, as he boards a helicopter at the White House. (Associated Press)

On the eve of Richard Nixon's resignation 40 years ago, he could hear protesters chanting outside the White House as he retired to the Lincoln Sitting Room to make calls.
The distant shouting reminded him of the height of the Vietnam War protests. "Except this time," he recalled during the more than 30 hours of interviews that he did with his former aide Frank Gannon in 1983, "the chant was 'Jail the Chief! Jail the Chief!'"

But the 37th president was unmoved. "It didn't bother me," he said, smiling in his conversation with Gannon nearly a decade later. "You know, after all, I'd been heckled by experts."
 Click here to view video

It was that brazen side of Nixon — impervious to criticism and casting himself as a victim even as he stepped down — that infuriated millions of Americans during what became a moment of national shame. Nixon's deception and abuse of executive power stunned the nation.
The Gannon-Nixon tapes, part of Nixon's post-presidency attempt to rehabilitate his reputation, are being rereleased this week for a new generation by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum and the Richard Nixon Foundation to mark the 40th anniversary of his resignation and the presidential scandal known as Watergate.
The clips in the series are appearing day by day through Saturday on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Sitting down with his longtime aide in a nonconfrontational setting — markedly different from the contentious Frost/Nixon interviews of 1977 — the former president frames one of the most famous political scandals in his own words.
The tapes are being billed by the library as revealing the former president's more emotional, candid and reflective side. They are at varying times maudlin, craven, emotional; even in 1983, Nixon appears to see himself as a man wronged, saying that he had resisted resigning because it would be an "admission of guilt" that would have set a bad example for future presidents.
While they do not provide new revelations about the Watergate affair, which began as a 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, they do provide intimate details of the Nixon family's last hours at the White House and a powerful leader's gradual submission to the politically inevitable.
The damning revelations of his involvement in the Watergate coverup by then were rolling into public view. He had lost the three votes he was counting on in the House Judiciary Committee to protect him from impeachment. Key supporters were abandoning him. And he could not bear the spectacle of going on trial before the Senate as "a crippled, half-time president."
But in Nixon's mind, he was still a victim, the tapes indicate. Even in those final White House days, he was still defiant about what had "happened" to him, basking in the adulation of loyal aides, and nurturing his lingering hesitation with a note left in his bedroom by his daughter Julie, who begged him to "go through the fire," noting that millions still supported him.

"I'm a fighter; I just didn't want to quit," Nixon said. "Also, I thought it would be an admission of guilt, which of course it was," he added. "And ... it would set a terribly bad precedent for the future."
But the damning tape of the "smoking gun" conversation, recorded in the Oval Office only a few days after the break-in and firmly establishing his knowledge of the burglary and coverup, "was the final blow, the final nail in the coffin. Although you didn't need another nail if you were already in the coffin, which we were."
Nixon recalled calling his family together and bringing with him a transcript of the tape to convince them he had to resign.
After his televised address to the nation on the night of Aug. 8, 1974, Nixon walked back to the residence with top advisor Henry Kissinger. "He said, 'Mr. President, history is going to record that you were a great president."
"I thought it would be an admission of guilt, which of course it was,” former President Nixon said in a 1983 interview of his reluctance to resign. (Raiford Communications)

Nixon's version of events is once again stirring debate among historians, some of whom say it represents a misleading view of a crucial chapter in American history. Watergate historian Stanley Kutler described the videos as a desperate attempt to "rewrite history" and said he had urged the library to create a more informative exhibit. "This was Nixon carefully programmed.... This was Nixon in the middle of his last campaign."
Nixon asserted, for example, that he had already made up his mind to resign before the incriminating "smoking gun" tape was revealed.
"That's not true," said Kutler, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "He was still trying that day to stay in office — and finally one Republican congressman after another told him he had to quit."
In Yorba Linda on Tuesday, there was no rush of visitors to see the excerpts on display, selected from the interviews and played in a loop in a darkened theater.
For much of the day, the theater was nearly empty as a few older couples and the occasional family trickled in to watch them. Many visitors seemed oblivious to the anniversary and said they did not know that the tapes were new. Some said they were too young to remember Nixon's resignation; others said they had become more fond of him over the years.
For 81-year-old Nancy Jerdee of Chandler, Ariz., there was not much new, but it brought back her sadness from that day. "I lived through all of that," she said, describing Nixon as a great president. "It was such a stupid thing to have to resign over.... Presidents have done a lot worse than that."
Nixon recalled that he did not sleep much the night before his last day in the White House. When he awoke, he realized that the battery had worn out on his watch — it had stopped at 4 p.m. on his last day as president. "By that time," he said, "I was worn out too."
Nixon recalled how he closed his eyes as he stepped aboard the helicopter for the last time. "I heard Mrs. Nixon speaking to no one in particular, but to everyone," he said. "It's so sad," he remembered her saying. "It's so sad."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

August 4, 2014

Cambodia Power-Sharing Deal Could Usher In Wider Democratic Reform

Last week, Cambodia’s ruling and opposition parties agreed to a power-sharing arrangement, bringing an end to a political crisis dating back to the country’s July 2013 general elections. The year-long standoff included an opposition boycott of parliament and mass protests that recently culminated in violent clashes and the arrest of seven opposition lawmakers-elect for charges of “leading an insurrection.”  

The opposition party, the National Rescue Party (CNRP), under the leadership of Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, had bitterly contested the results of last year’s polls, in which the National Election Committee (NEC) announced the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen as the winner. The opposition alleged massive electoral fraud and demanded an independent investigation, a new election, an overhaul of the NEC and, at times, the resignation of Hun Sen. The government suppressed CNRP-led protests and ultimately imposed a ban on public demonstrations, including the January closure of Freedom Park, a state-designated space for public protest that had become the opposition party’s symbolic rallying point for its democratic struggle. ...

By Briefing

August 1, 2014

Don’t Know Much About History

The architects of our foreign-policy disasters would prefer we simply forget the past.

Clockwise from top left: Elliott Abrams, Henry Kissinger, Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta; Reuteres/Pascal Lauener; Gage Skidmore CC2.0;
AP Photo/Richard Drew)

I recently happened to be in the audience for a discussion on the legacy of World War I, held at the Thompson/Reuters headquarters in New York City, when Henry Kissinger made an amazing observation: of the five major wars that the United States has fought since World War II, all were entered on behalf of “idealistic principles.” No less surprising to me was the fact that nobody else in the crowded room of media and policy bigwigs appeared to find anything odd about that statement. Given what we now know about the lies, deception and corruption that preceded the most catastrophic of these wars—Vietnam and the second Iraq War—to call them “idealistic” is to purposely evade history at best, or (more accurately) to rewrite it purely on the basis of ideology rather than evidence.
Now Kissinger, at 91, may be pretty old and famously amoral, but he is not senile and has never been stupid. He offered his blinkered version of recent events before a room full of knowledgeable people because he figured nobody really cared one way or another. After all, it was “history”—which, in contemporary American political culture, is another word for “irrelevant.” And it is this contempt for history, as the cliché correctly advises, that condemns our nation to continually repeat it. The circumstances may differ, but the pathology remains unchanged.
Neocons are surpremely aware of this tendency and exploit it to the fullest. In fact, most of their careers would be impossible without it. Would Elliott Abrams be able to mouth off as a respected Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, attacking Barack Obama in a recent Politico piece as “The Man Who Broke the Middle East,” if his patrons took the time to consider that Abrams both enabled and ran political interference for what the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice has deemed a genocidal dictatorship? (Abrams also got himself disbarred in the District of Columbia for his lies to Congress about these and other crimes in which he participated while serving in the Reagan administration, both before and after the Iran/Contra affair.) Should that stretch American memory muscles beyond their breaking point, how about the fact that this criminal, while serving on the National Security Council during Bush II, himself helped to “break” the Middle East by undermining the 2006 Palestinian elections, which helped lead to the creation of a Hamas-run rump state in Gaza in the first place? And yet he somehow gets away with the crazy claim that “the Middle East that Obama inherited in 2009 was largely at peace” in order to blame its alleged collapse on the current president. (Politico is, conveniently, the ground zero of American political ahistoricity: virtually everything it publishes occurred during the previous twenty-four hours and will cease to matter within the next forty-eight.)
Numerous observers have expressed incredulity over the eagerness of so many media mavens to allow the discredited armchair warriors of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq to dominate discussion of the current crisis in that country—a crisis whose foundations they helped put in place. In a saner world, each one would, at a minimum, be required to answer the following question: “Given your record the last time this issue arose, why in the world should we listen to anything you have to say today?” But as the respective rehabilitations of Henry Kissinger and Elliott Abrams demonstrate, being a known liar and an arguable (Kissinger) or unarguable (Abrams) enabler of genocide is no barrier to career advancement in the American establishment, thanks to the collective amnesia of its most elite institutions, especially its elite media.
Sometimes they lie outright. Here are Dick and Liz Cheney writing in The Weekly Standardregarding the Iraq invasion: “It is undisputed, and has been confirmed repeatedly in Iraqi government documents captured after the invasion, that Saddam had deep, longstanding, far-reaching relationships with terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda and its affiliates.”
Undisputed? Really? How about, just for starters, the 9/11 Commission, before which Cheney testified. Its final report, as Warren Bass noted in The Wall Street Journal, states that the commission has “seen no evidence [of] a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.”
William Kristol, perhaps the wrongest pundit in all of American history—and hence also the most sought-after by media institutions like The Washington PostThe New York Times,Time, ABC News, etc.—demonstrates a coy agnosticism when it comes to the choice between outright fabrication and contempt for the historical record. He doesn’t mind pretending, as he did on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos, that the current crisis was caused by what he termed “our ridiculous and total withdrawal from Iraq in 2011,” when in fact that withdrawal had been decided on in the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement negotiated with the Iraqi government by George W. Bush. But Kristol is just as comfortable asserting in The Weekly Standard (in an article written with Frederick Kagan), “Now is not the time to re-litigate either the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 or the decision to withdraw from it in 2011.” This is perhaps the only path available to someone with the chutzpah to insist, back in April 2003, that it was merely a “kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni,” when that same person today is calling for yet another attack on the country to deal with the Sunni/Shiite massacres inspired by the earlier one. But as Kristol, Cheney, Abrams and Kissinger demonstrate over and over, success within our political punditocracy means never having to say you’re sorry.

July 30, 2014

Laos, US Legacy, and Unexploded Ordnance

For decades, Laos’ economic development and relationship with the United States has been strained by unexploded ordnance (UXO), a legacy of the Vietnam War.
Roughly 30 percent of the two million tons of bombs that the United States dropped in Laos during the Vietnam War failed to detonate on impact. To date, only about one percent of affected land has been cleared and over twenty-thousand people have been killed or injured by UXO since 1975.
However, in January 2014, Congress allocated $12 million in funding towards UXO assistance programs in Laos as part of the omnibus spending bill, four times the average annual UXO budget from 1995-2013. This creates an opportunity for the United States to address a key flashpoint in U.S.-Lao relations while making strategic development inroads with the largest single benefactor of Chinese investment in the region.
Since the end of the bombing in 1975, the United States has provided $74 million in UXO assistance in Laos, with forty-percent allocated in the last five years.
Laos receives an annual $4 billion from China in mining, hydropower, and agricultural investments.

U.S. assistance towards improving UXO clearance efficiency will focus on providing better technology and training programs, assistance for families and victims, as well as developing the capacity of national institutions to absorb this assistance.
In previous years, clearance operators reduced cluster bomb related casualties from an average of roughly 300 per year to 41 in 2013. The increase of resources, if leveraged efficiently, can bolster these efforts and set the stage for significant economic development in the country.
There is a long road ahead – or rather very little road. UXO cover half of the country, and as a result only about 53 percent of national roads and 3 percent of local roads are paved. Additionally, there is no national or transnational railway system, and roughly 40 percent of villages and 10 percent of district centers lack road access during the rainy season. Clearing land from UXOs alone add 30 to 40 cents in cost per square meter of road creation.  As a result, large segments of the population remain isolated from basic social services.
UXO has also impacted critical investments in institutional infrastructure including schools, hospitals, water supply facilities, and power plants as scarce public funds are diverted to clearance efforts. The result has been a slew of development challenges that plague Laos, including falling literacy rates (from 89 percent in 2005 to 77 percent in 2012), poor access to clean water and sanitation, and an inconsistent supply of power.
The proliferation of UXO in Laos has stunted development efforts and prevented the creation of infrastructure needed to attract and absorb foreign investment. For example, the World Bank’s 2014 Doing Business Indicators  estimates that it costs an additional $1,155 to ship a container across a border from Laos than it does to ship one from Cambodia. In addition, investors surveyed complained that even with low-wages, poor physical and institutional infrastructure, and a poorly educated workforce make the labor force uncompetitive compared to neighboring countries like Cambodia.
UXO also severely hampers Lao agricultural productivity and contributes to persistent food crises as farmers are unable to expand production onto otherwise fertile land. Although agriculture employs 76 percent of the population, it accounts for less than 1 percent of total GDP and as of 2011, only 7 percent of total land in Laos is being used for agriculture.
It is within the United States’ interest to ensure a prosperous Laos, and addressing the issue of UXOs is the first step toward this direction. Laos will ascend to the ASEAN chairmanship in 2016, and like its predecessors Brunei and Myanmar, will be well-poised to influence the agenda in the region. To this end, the UXO issue is low-hanging fruit that yields high dividends in terms of both developmental and political gains.  The United States has the chance to construct a new legacy in Laos, and for a host of reasons, it should seize the opportunity.
Image courtesy of Flickr under creative commons license.
Elena Rosenblum is a researcher for the Project on U.S. Leadership in Development at CSIS 

July 29, 2014

Press Conference: Advocates Call for End of U.S. Support of African Tyrants

IPS' Foreign Policy In Focus joins a diverse U.S. based activist coalition focusing on Africa is calling on U.S. leaders to cease their support and empowerment of brutal dictators across Africa.

A diverse U.S. based activist coalition focusing on Africa is calling on U.S. leaders to cease their support and empowerment of brutal dictators across Africa. The Coalition will host a press conference ahead of the first ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit to take place in Washington, DC in early August.
The Coalition will focus on U.S. support for strongmen in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The people of these countries have been caught in a dictatorial death trap since the Clinton Administration that has resulted in millions dead due to wars of aggression and internal repression. The U.S. has dubbed these tyrannical strongmen, a “new breed” of “Renaissance” leaders of Africa in spite of the havoc they have wreaked on the African continent. Other heads of state from Ethiopia, Egypt and elsewhere on the continent will also be addressed during the press conference. A special focus will be placed on heads of state who are seeking to change their constitutions to remove term limits so they can remain in power in perpetuity.
Paul Rusesabagina (who performed Raul Wallenberg-type heroics during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and whose story has been captured in the movie “Hotel Rwanda”) is expected to lead the appeal in calling for an end to the support the U.S. provides to these African strongmen. Other expected speakers include: Congolese human rights activist Nita Evele; genocide survivor Claude Gatebuke; and Ugandan Publisher Milton Allimadi.
Co-sponsors: Coalition members include: Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN); African Great Lakes Action Network (AGLAN); Don’t Be Blind This Time; Foreign Policy in Focus; Friends of the Congo (FOTC); Hope Congo (HC); Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation (HRRF); Mobilization for Justice and Peace in Congo (MJPC) and la Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH).


July 31
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Event Category:


National Press Club
529 Fourteenth Street NW,Washington, DC 20045 United States
+ Google Map

July 25, 2014

MAG - Focus on Vietnam

Two more children die 40 years later

I have worked for seven years for MAG in Quang Binh as a Community Liaison Officer, and have heard about so many accidents in the poor villages: two 14-year-old boys, one killed and one badly injured when they set off a submunition in the schoolyard; a man, who is still suffering from the ballbarings pinned in his body as a result of an explosion; three children, one killed and two injured when they were trying to help their poor parents by risking their lives to collect the scrap metal. I have never witnessed the accidents, but could feel how terrible they were through the conversations with the victims or their families. Yesterday, this changed when an accident occurred 2 km from where I was working - an accident that killed two children, aged 9 and 5, in front of their parents.

It was a hot summer day and our teams were collecting information about the location of unexploded ordnance in Dong Giang village, Hung Trach Commune when we received news that two brothers had been killed 2 km away - they had been tampering with a submunition in front of their house. We went to the site immediately. It was in a rundown house, surrounded by hundreds of people. I couldn’t tell who was the mother of the two kids, among the many crying women there, but one person pointed out the father, still recovering from a recent traffic accident. He couldn’t move, screaming on his knees: “Today is my sons’ first day of summer holiday. How painful! Why didn’t God let me die for my sons, why did he take my sons away? They were still so young.” I couldn’t stop the tears streaming down my face; my heart really hurt.

I saw the pliers and a pair of broken sunglasses that they used to tamper with the submunition, a pair of torn sandals, a hole on the floor, and the balls. I went closer to the bed in the center of the house where the remaining bodies of the two kids lay. Someone pulled the blanket up, revealing the two dead bodies - one had no head:  legs and hands were smashed and blown away. People were picking up pieces of flesh stuck on the wall to put in a bowl, placing it beside the bodies. What a terrifying scene. I closed my eyes, felling breathless, and ran out. People were crying louder and louder.

Above: Tools the kids used to tamper with the submunition
Why did these innocent kids have to die? The older brother was a good pupil at school. He was just nine years old but always tried to help his parents. Every day he walked far to bring back some clean water for the family and took care of his five-year-old brother while their parents were out: a bright future was ahead of them. But the legacy of the war, which ended 40 years ago, has taken their lives away.

I informed a victim assistance organization of the accident, so they might provide support to the family. I left MAG’s hotline number there, in case they needed help. This village was on our list for operations next month. I wished MAG had been there earlier; maybe this accident could have been stopped.

I suddenly thought of my three-year-old son. This should never happen again - I have to do something. I will start teaching my son the first lesson of mine risk education today.

By Mai Chi
MAG Vietnam CLO

July 24, 2014

MAG - Focus on Vietnam

For 25 years, MAG has been working to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance and, for 15 of those years, we have been in Vietnam. As a result, we have staff there who have spent their careers with MAG, working to make their country a safer place.
Most of the stories in this newsletter are written directly by those staff, so you can hear their voices as they represent MAG’s life-saving and life-changing two-fold approach – how we are the necessary first step in development for the poorest communities in Vietnam and how we represent hope for the wounded and families of the dead – hope that we can finally stop children from being killed from bombs from over 40 years ago.

Helping the Poorest Farmers in Vietnam
by Le Van Minh, Community Liaison Officer, MAG Vietnam
"I didn’t know what happened. There was a very big bang and I found myself covered in blood. I could hear people around me discussing how to take me to the hospital. The village was even poorer then: there was no ambulance, no taxi, no motorbike, not even a bicycle. They had to carry me in a hammock for 25 kilometers to the nearest medical facility. My hands had been blown off and my body was riddled with shrapnel.”
Pictured here is Nguyen Dinh Thu, whose family is one of 700 households in my home province of Quang Tri to benefit from a sustainable agriculture development project, undertaken by MAG and one of our development partners, Roots of Peace. Thu knows the danger of UXO very well. The above quotation describes his experience when he was 21, and his hoe struck a bomb that had stayed undisturbed for 13 years, since the end of the war.
MAG cleared Thu's land in Son Ha village in 2012, removing 11 unexploded ordnance (UXO) items, enabling him to plant pepper trees so that he can earn a living with his wife and two children.
Pepper is a traditional crop and an important industry here in Quang Tri, due to its suitability to the local weather and soil. Pepper from the province is prized in Vietnam and around the world, and has a high value on the market.
However, many of the most suitable areas for cultivating pepper remain contaminated by UXO left over from the Vietnam War and, due to the farming technique required (digging of trenches up to one metre deep), most pepper farmers underuse the land because of the high risk of UXO accidents.
"We will use the additional income to send our children to school" 
Thu’s land was identified as a priority for the project that aims to produce commercial crops for the poorest farmers in the area. In total, MAG cleared 9,721m² of land at 17 pepper plantation areas, from May to August 2012, finding and destroying 69 UXO items.

Quang Tri Province, Vietnam
Roots of Peace then helped with seeds and fertilizer, as well as technical support to the farmers. On the cleared plantations, 1,043 one-year-old pepper plants are now growing well, and in two years, the first crop will be harvested.
"We will use the additional income to send our children to school," Thu told me.
MAG's work promotes development in Vietnam. New houses have been built, and new schools and roads constructed, on the land cleared by MAG.

June 2014

7 Faces of Vietnam
All photos: Sean Sutton/MAG
The Vietnam War ended in 1975, but explosive weapons dropped on the country continue to devastate lives to this day.
Countless unexploded bombs, missiles, artillery shells, mortars and grenades still pose a risk of detonation [There is no precise estimate of how much contamination remains*] – killing and maiming men, women and children.
This unexploded ordnance (UXO) also restricts access to agricultural land, and affects the construction of housing, roads and other infrastructure – stifling development and keeping communities in poverty.
Hear from some of the people affected below...
* Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor

1) Eighty-year-old Mrs. Hoang remembers the Vietnam War and its aftermath well...
"I was here in this village 30 years ago," she said. "There were holes and craters everywhere. The authorities gave me a plot of land to grow rubber trees. When I went there I saw bombies [cluster submunitions] everywhere, so I asked for another plot.
"The other plot was much further away from the village and I discovered it was even worse! An old man helped me: he picked up all the bombs and buried them in a hole."
[Quang Binh province]

(2) A grieving mother...
Thai's son, Vu, was killed when he set off a BLU3/B cluster submunition in the schoolyard.
His friend, Nam, was injured in the same explosion: "Vu called me over to see something he had found. It was metal and was a yellow color. He started to poke it with a nail and there was a big explosion. I felt pain in my body. I didn’t know what had happened.
"Vu was on the ground with holes in him. I had blood coming out and was shocked. I arrived at hospital and, since then, it has been terrible. My friend is dead."
"It is so unfair," said Nam's mother. "He's just a boy and he didn’t know. He didn’t know it was a bomb. He didn't know it would blow up." 
[Quang Binh province]

(3) Tung Van Duc used to collect scrap metal – a deadly business in Vietnam...
"The accident happened on December 13, 2004. I was a farmer, but found it hard to support my family, so I collected scrap metal as well. I knew the job could be dangerous, because I knew several people that had been killed [in unexploded ordnance accidents] doing it.
"On the day of my accident, I was working with my metal detector and found a grenade about 30cm deep in the ground. It was aluminium, so it was valuable. I didn’t know that this grenade was still dangerous.
"I brought it home and used my hammer to open it up, to get the aluminium. It exploded and the next thing I remember was being in hospital. I felt a lot of pain and couldn’t see.
“It wasn’t until a while later that I was told that my wife and one of my sons had also been injured. My wife had shrapnel in her lungs and legs. My son, who was 10, was less seriously injured.
"Since then, life has been very hard. We are the poorest family in the village. I can’t do anything. I can’t see. My wife can’t do heavy work and still suffers pain, but she has to do the farming.
"My son never went to school after the accident. He has never been the same since that day – he has been traumatized. He's able to do some laboring work, but he can’t do much.
"I still keep my detector: it is a reminder of that terrible day; a reminder that things will never be the same."
[Quang Nam province] 
(4) Duong, mother of three, has been working for MAG for 13 years...
"I wanted to remove UXO [unexploded ordnance]. There is still so much UXO after the war, and we need to make land safe for families and for the country.
"Before working for MAG, life was very difficult for my family. I didn't have a job and my husband's work in a cement factory paid him very little. When I started this job, my family was very worried because of the danger, but now they understand and are very proud of me.
"We've been able to buy a small plot of land, and my children all go to school. They have notebooks and other things that they need. Life is good and I'm happy.
"I'm proud, as a woman, to do this work. After work, I have to go to the market and look after the children [her children are aged four, 12 and 16]. When I'm working, my grandmother looks after them."
[Quang Tri province] 

5) Mrs. Nguyen's land was cleared by MAG...
This photo was taken shortly after MAG had checked Mrs Nguyen’s land to make sure it was clear of unexploded cluster submunitions ["bombies", to the locals].
"My son found bombies and mortars here, so I’m so happy that it’s safe and we can extend our house," she said.
[Quang Nam province]

(6) Mr. Nam found a mortar bomb in his garden...
He is convinced there are more bombs under the ground: "I am too frightened to use the land. When MAG has finished clearing it, I'll grow vegetables to begin with, and then extend my house. I have three children and when they get bigger, we'll need more space."
[Quang Nam province] 

(7) One of the many beneficiaries of MAG's work in Vietnam...
More than 600,000 people directly benefited from our work to make lives and land safe in Vietnam, during 2013. 
[Quang Nam province]