New group works for clear paths in Vietnam
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:36 PM
"What if Bainbridge children weren't able to play outside, for fear they might lose limbs, or their lives, in explosions?In countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, where landmines and unexploded bombs litter the landscape, parents fear daily for the safety of their children.A group of Bainbridge families has joined forces to create Clear Path International, a non-profit organization to sponsor landmine removal and victim assistance programs in Southeast Asia. It is safe here. We have children ourselves and feel very fortunate that they don't suffer needlessly, said Martha Hathaway, co-founder, project director and mother of two boys. But safety is not a luxury everyone in the world is afforded. Landmines still pose a threat to children - a child in Vietnam cannot run through a field.The group decided to focus its attention on Vietnam before moving on to other countries because they all have a strong emotional bond there. All of the four co-founders have worked in one way or another to improve conditions in that country.The timing seemed right for us to work together, said James Hathaway, co-founder. It is a synergistic relationship. Four times the amount of explosives dropped by the Allied forces in Europe and Japan during World War II was dropped on in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, according to Imbert Matthee, executive director and co-founder of the Clear Paths organization.Of the 50 million tons of explosives that originated in the Soviet Union, China and the United States that fell on Vietnam - a country about the size of Vermont - an estimated 10 percent did not detonate, Matthee said.After the war ended, efforts were made to remove unexploded ammunition; however, most of the clearance took place in populated areas, ignoring the provinces. Unexploded bombs and landmines are still sitting in the ground at varying depths, and many are simply out in the open for anyone to stumble across. That makes it difficult for the locals to work the land, said Kristen Leadem, Clear Path's in-country representative. It's very dangerous and extremely resource extensive, Leadem said, and it's expensive. People may say, 'pay farmers or locals to do it,' but you need experts.The experts Clear Path partners with are UXB International of Ashburn, Va. That group trains, equips and supervises Vietnamese deminers who do the actual clearance, and provides quality assurance work on the project.Clear Path recently received its first major grant from the Freeman Association of Stowe, Vt., to clear 125 acres of land on the former Dong Ha combat base. The base was the temporary home for the 3rd Marine Division during the late 1960s, Matthee said, and was under regular attack.Matthee was most recently affiliated with Peace Trees, another Bainbridge-based relief organization focusing on Vietnam.In addition to the clearance projects, the group wants to assist victims who have been injured by unexploded ammunition. Hathaway herself witnessed the explosion of a hand grenade, when children found a round object covered with mud and thought that it was a ball. According to Clear Path's statistics, every year hundreds of children are killed and thousands more are injured and live with lost limbs, lost eyesight, bomb fragments in parts of their body and other physical impairments through accidents such as the one Hathaway saw. Hathaway received an email from an acquaintance in Vietnam recently, saying seven young children were seriously injured during school when one of the students saw a strange object, and not realizing that it was a landmine, threw it. Matthee said local hospitals do not have the resources to deal with such major injuries. The organization's victim assistant programs, funded by individual donations and small grants, would provide emergency medical care and hospitalization, surgery, long-term health care, household economic support and scholarships.Hathaway said that currently, because of grants, 100 percent of donations are going straight to the Vietnamese. But smaller donations are needed to help with the victim assistance programs.There is a place for every contribution, he said, and a little goes a long way.We don't think that Clear Path will or can clear all of Vietnam, Hathaway said, but we can make an impact until bigger forces join in. "