Vietnam Time

6/29/2018 9:26:02 PM

Peace Trees grown in former battlefield

(VNF) – Founded in 1995 by Danaan Parry and Jerilyn Brusseau, PeaceTrees Vietnam was the first US organization permitted to sponsor humanitarian demining efforts in Vietnam. Over the years PeaceTrees has continued to work in mine action, while broadening the scope of its humanitarian work and remaining committed to honoring losses on all sides of the war.

Inspired by the kindness 

Peace Trees' volunteers plant trees in Vietnam's former battlefield. (source: PeaceTrees)

In early 1969, US Army Lt Daniel Cheney and his co-pilot Warrant Officer Walter Koslosky were killed near Di An Vietnam, when their helicopter was shot down as they provided support to a downed fellow pilot. Their fellow pilot was rescued and survived. From this tragic loss, Daniel’s sister Jerilyn vowed that someday ordinary American families like her own must find a way to reach out to the Vietnamese people, to honor losses on all sides and to begin building bridges of peace and friendship.

That day finally arrived 26 years later. On July 11, 1995, President Bill Clinton announced the normalization of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the United States. Jerilyn and her husband, Danaan Parry, believed they must move quickly to reach the Vietnamese people to propose working together to heal the devastating consequences of the war. 

Co-founder Danaan Parry with President Clinton (source: PeaceTrees) 

By November of 1995, they gathered a small group of friends around a Sunday breakfast table to share their vision for building peace and friendship with the people of Vietnam. They were inspired to take the spirit of ‘citizen diplomacy’ fostered by 18 previous international PeaceTrees programs to a deeper level, by proposing to sponsor clearance of unexploded ordnance from war-torn areas, then bring international volunteers, including American veterans and their families, to plant trees with the Vietnamese people on the safely cleared land. The vision of PeaceTrees Vietnam was launched.  

In Vietnam, they were welcomed and immediately invited to Quang Tri Province. The group’s first project was sponsoring clearance of mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) from 6.5 hectares of contaminated land near Dong Ha Town. Forty two volunteers from the United States and other nations pledged to plant trees with their Vietnamese counterparts on the safely cleared land. This partnership was the first time Vietnamese leaders permitted an international nongovernmental organization to engage in humanitarian demining work.

Just days before their tree planting journey to Vietnam was to begin, Danaan Parry suffered a sudden, fatal heart attack. Jerilyn, Rae, and the rest of the PeaceTrees team were deeply shocked and saddened, yet believed so strongly in their mission that they knew that they must go forward. Gathering from locations around the globe, the volunteers met days later in Quang Tri Province to begin planting trees alongside their Vietnamese counterparts. Over 2,000 trees later, the Friendship Forest Park was planted, new friendships were born and the journey of PeaceTrees Vietnam had begun.

More trees of peace grown

Since its founding, Peacetrees has had a major impact in Quang Tri province.

Let’s look at some remarkable milestones on the 23-year-journey of PeaceTrees in Vietnam.

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A staff measuring the giant Mark 82 bomb in January in Quang Tri. Photo courtesy of PeaceTree Viet Nam

In 1998, the Danaan Parry Landmines Education Center for Children built in Dong Ha, Quang Tri Province, providing education on the risk of UXOs to kids in the province.

In 2002, PeaceTrees Friendship Village and kindergarten was built on safely cleared land.

In 2005, PeaceTrees received their first Humanitarian Demining grant from the United States Department of State for the clearance of land in Khe Sanh, Quang Tri and the surrounding area.

Beyond clearing land of bombs and mines, one of the highest-impact programs PeaceTrees offers is educational scholarships.

In the same year, PeaceTrees scholarships programme was kick started, which provice needy students with a full-year of tuition, textbooks, notebooks, uniforms, meals, and additional administrative fees that these children would otherwise be unable to afford. Since then, in 12 consecutive years, PeaceTrees have been providing scholarships to 400 students in Vietnam every year.  

Two years later, the first kindergarten was built in the Khe Sanh area, in honor of US Marine Corps Corporal David Warner.

In 2010, Rae Cheney (US Army Lt Daniel Cheney's mother), co-founder of PeaceTrees was awarded the Medal for Peace and Friendship Among Nations by the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations (VUFO).

In the same year, the Healthful Gardens for Healthy Children Pilot Project, aiming at improving nutrition for kids was launched.

Groundbreaking ceremony of a kindergarten built by Peace Trees in Ra Man Village, Khe Sanh, Quang Tri (source: Peace Trees)

Two years later, in 2012, the humanitarian demining expanded to Quang Binh Province. PeaceTrees also built another kindergarten in the province.

In 2014, the 12th library, the Lotus Friendship Library in Mo O Commune and Completed Ba Long Village Project, which combined UXO clearance and community building work, was completed.

In 2015, marking the 20th anniversary of PeaceTrees, Black Pepper Pilot, a project in agriculture for local farmers was initiated with the dedicated support of Peace Trees’ partners.

By 2017, PeaceTrees have reached a milestone of 100,000 UXOs.

In the same year, Healthful Gardens for Healthy Children project expansion to 200 additional women based on success of pilot project.

Totally, PeaceTrees has so far cleared nearly 890 acres of land, removed over 105,000 ordnance items, supported over 200 victims and 60 families affected by UXOs planted 43,000 trees.

In addition, mine risk education were provided for over 85,000 people.

The organization also distributed 1,664 scholarships to students affected by UXOs, and built 100 family homes, 12 libraries, 12 kindergartens and 2 community centers.

Latest updates: Bright prospect 

Over the past 23 years, PeaceTrees' Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams have grown to a total of four teams and 60 dedicated technicians, more and more landmines have been safely removed. 

In January, PeaceTrees' exploded 260 wartime bombs taken from a scrap warehouse in central Quang Tri Province.

At the same time, PeaceTrees is carry out several projects on building kindergartens in the Central part of Vietnam.

In March, the Black Pepper project harvested over 120 kilograms of black pepper grown.

Yesterday (June 29), PeaceTrees announced that they have exceeded their goals set for scholarship fundraising for students affected by UXOs. The total amount of donated cash PeaceTrees has mobilized is USD 23,000 (the target was USD 20,000). 

Based on the past momentum, PeaceTrees will definite contribute to filling the former battlefields with the color of love, peace and prosperity./.

  ( Phi Yen )
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