IN DECEMBER 2018, I had the privilege of traveling to Vietnam and seeing the works of Seattle-based nonprofit PeaceTrees Vietnam in action. Their programs, as I hope you’ll read in today’s cover story, focus on clearing war-torn land of unexploded bombs and land mines, and then building schools and libraries to help communities once again thrive. PeaceTrees has reached a milestone: more than 25 years of operation.
Although the Vietnam War ended in 1975, a chilling, destructive legacy lives on. In Quang Tri province, in the infamous Demilitarized Zone between the former South and North Vietnams, much of the land still is uninhabitable. Even to this day, a child or a farmer will find a bomb or land mine, with potentially horrible results.
During my trip, our group was summoned to a green, rolling field, where a PeaceTrees-sponsored demining team had located an unexploded bomb. They showed it to us: a rusty, foot-long cylinder that their metal detectors had found 2 feet beneath the soil. Packing sandbags around the hole, the team detonated the bomb on-site. Farmers would be plowing there soon, preparing the soil for cassava and peanuts.
Over 25 years, PeaceTrees has helped clear more than 1,500 acres of land in similar meticulous fashion, removing more than 115,000 unexploded bombs, land mines, mortar shells and grenades. Today, kindergartens, libraries and community centers flourish in these cleared areas, and the future is bright for the families who live there. Children can walk to school, to the market, to friends’ houses, without fear of stepping on a bomb left by a war long before their time.
It all started with a vision that a Bainbridge Island resident, Jerilyn Brusseau, had when her brother was killed in Vietnam more than 50 years ago. She vowed to someday find a way that an ordinary American family could help build peace and friendship between former foes. There was no blueprint or guide to creating a nonprofit; PeaceTrees came together from an unyielding dream. In this humanitarian cause founded in grief, a hopeful sequel has been written to a story that ended with so much confusion and tragedy decades ago.