The residents of Aldeia 25 Junho (literally, "the 25th of June"), a village in Southern Mozambique, may not have heard of Atlanta, Ga., or any of the areas that comprise the UCC's Southeast Conference. But it was gifts from the churches of that conference that helped to clear the village of landmines left behind by a war long since ended.
At their 1999 annual meeting, these churches voted to raise funds to support Adopt-A-Minefield, a program that helps clear minefields. They also urged the United States to sign on to an international treaty banning landmines altogether.
Sponsored by the United Nations Association of the USA (UNA-USA), Adopt-A-Minefield provides resources for the United Nations' work in removing these deadly devices, one patch at a time. Now that work is completed in that small Mozambique village and life is returning to normal there, the Southeast Conference churches have vowed to help another village.
The Rev. Joyce Myers-Brown led the initial effort in the Southeast Conference, with assistance by UCC minister and former Atlanta mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, who served as honorary chair. Working through the Atlanta Chapter of the UNA-USA, these churches were part of the UNA's efforts to raise $36,000 to clear the minefield around Aldeia 25 Junho.
In what could be a sign of grace, when the spring rains and floods came in 2000, Aldeia 25 Junho was the only safe high ground in the area and served as a drop point for relief supplies.
This past spring, the Southeast Conference churches again committed themselves to help another Mozambique village.
Fifteen minefields surround Tomo/Ressano Garcia, located near the South Africa border. The churches will join in the UNA-Atlanta chapter's efforts to raise almost $30,000 to clear just one of these fields, which will help restore access to roads in the area. They hope to achieve their goal by the end of 2001.
In addition, One Great Hour of Sharing will match up to $5,000 in funds pledged by churches throughout the UCC.
Landmines are a "social, environmental and physical catastrophe,"says Myers-Brown, who served for more than 10 years in the 1960s and 1970s as a missionary to Angola. In 1995, she returned to Angola following a cease-fire in the country's 20-year civil war. "I saw the results of landmines and how it affected people I love," she says.
As a result of this visit, Myers-Brown became a strong advocate of eliminating landmines, including support of a 1997 international treaty signed in Ottawa that called for the end of landmines and the removal of those already in place. While 140 countries have signed on to this treaty, the United States has not. Many groups, including eight high-ranking retired military leaders, are urging that this country sign the treaty. (See information at left about the national Call-In Days.)
Clearing minefields is a dangerous task and is accomplished through trained United Nations personnel. Estimates for clearing each mine range between $300 and $1,000, although creating the mine takes only about $3 in materials. The U.S. State Department estimates that up to 70 million mines still lay in wait around the world, although other organizations count more.
Rarely is a minefield mapped, showing exact locations of the mines. Usually, trained mine removers must go slowly over every inch of soil with detection equipment, removing mines with special digging tools. In addition, many minefields are discovered by accident, as livestock, farmers, or children trigger a device, causing injury or death.
Currently, only five nations are involved in the Adopt-A-Minefield program: Afghanistan, Mozambique, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Cambodia. In Angola, the country that stirred Rev. Myers-Brown, the United Nations has some mine clearing operations, but it is still too volatile to be included in the UNA Adopt-A-Minefield program.
"I wanted [to adopt a field in] Angola," she said. "But they kept telling me 'not yet, not yet.'"
Still, she is encouraged that communities around the world are working together to draw attention to the landmine tragedy, and removing the devices one minefield at a time. "You know that you have made a difference in one small corner of the world," she says.
A special performance of "Watch Your Step," a play about landmine dangers written by UCC member Jason Wells, will be performed on Sunday, Sept. 23 at 7 Stages, 1105 Euclid Avenue in Atlanta. Ambassador Andrew Young will serve as host for the 2:30 p.m. performance. Call 404-876-2421 for reservations or more information. Proceeds will benefit the removal of landmines from Tomo/Ressano Garcia, Mozambique.
The U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines is organizing national Call-In Days on Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 1 and 2, to urge President Bush to send the 1997 treaty to ban landmines to the Senate for ratification. The phone number is 202-456-1414; fax 202-456-2461.