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Life Arts    H3'ed 5/30/20

From Mines to Vines: CA Mom Follows in Princess Di's Footsteps

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Cover art for 'Breaking Ground', Heidi's new book
Cover art for 'Breaking Ground', Heidi's new book
(Image by courtesy of Heidi Kuhn)
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My guest today is Heidi Kuhn, founder/CEO of Roots of Peace and author of Breaking Ground, the new book about it.

Joan Brunwasser: Welcome to OpEdNews, Heidi. While Roots of Peace has repeatedly taken you around the world, many of our readers are not yet familiar with you or your organization. Can you get the ball rolling for us, please? What is Roots of Peace?

Heidi Kuhn: Thank you, Joan. It's an honor to be invited as a guest on OpEdNews! Roots of Peace had humble roots. It began as a vision in the living room of our family home. On Labor Day Weekend 1997, the world was shocked by news of the tragic death of Princess Diana, who had raised global awareness about landmines through her treks to Angola and Bosnia-Herzegovina during the last year of her life. Her footsteps as a mother represented compassion for children who are often forgotten in war-torn lands. Parents live in constant fear that kicking a soccer ball out of bounds or chasing a butterfly may result in their child's loss of life or limb.

On September 21, 1997, I was asked by the Commonwealth Club of California to host a reception for those who were working on the landmines issue. Over 100 guests arrived.

Jerry White, landmine survivor, who led Princess Diana through the Balkans only a month before, walked into our home without a leg. While I've seen people take off their shoes at my door, I never saw anyone take off a prosthetic limb to make his point. As he described his journey, I looked into the innocent eyes of my four children--Brooks, age 14, Tucker, age 12, Kyleigh, age 10 and Christian, age 2---and stepped forward lifting my glass with a prophetic toast : "May the world go from MINES TO VINES..." Images of transforming blood to wine and killing fields into vineyards washed forth in my mind like a watercolor image. The room was silent.

Kuhn family photo circa 1997 when mine to vine toast was given
Kuhn family photo circa 1997 when mine to vine toast was given
(Image by courtesy of Heidi Kuhn)
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The tapestry of my life came together like an exquisite quilt that defied words. As a cancer survivor, I suddenly realized, "Cancer is a landmine. And, landmines are a cancer to the earth."

At that moment, I set out on a quest to transform MINES TO VINES and plant the Roots of Peace on former war-torn lands. The solution was removal.

JB: And you've been at it ever since. You are not the first to start an NGO with lofty goals. Not all of them make it. Yet you and Roots of Peace have been quite successful. Looking back, can you give us a sense of what strategies bridged that wide chasm between wishes and reality?

HK: Sheer persistence! My deep California roots date back to the 1850s, and the pioneer spirit of the West kept me going. When you fall off the horse, you get right back into the saddle and ride! The wise words of my grandmothers are etched in my soul, and I often draw upon this generational wisdom of women to bridge the chasm of a deep ravine--turning ideas into reality.

Financial challenges are always the steepest mountain to climb. Yet, I lead with faith, not fear.

There were times when I questioned my own judgment in risking my family to achieve my dream for others, and that is when someone appeared along the trail--just at the right time.

The Taliban attack on March 28, 2014 was the most serious. Our Roots of Peace staff and guards fended off a four and one half hour gun battle, as we listened LIVE from the living room of our family home--helpless to save our friends. A suicide bomber detonated his truck in front of our Roots of Peace compound in Kabul, and stormed through the gates in search of 25 kindergarten children at a Christian day care center. Instead, his team took the wrong turn--and stormed our facility. It was an act of grace, and ultimately, all of our staff was spared. Since then, the military has studied this scenario, as it is rare that no one from our team was killed in such a fierce battle.

JB: Wow. That Taliban attack sounds terrifying. Okay. Now that we have more of a sense of your Why, let's turn to the What. Your program is unusual because it has several different facets to it. Was it always like that? Walk us through the process - how this became much bigger than "simply" removing landmines.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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