(Host) Two Bennington County women are heading to Kabul this week as consultants for the U.S. State Department.
The government has hired them to assess the needs of civilians maimed by land mines and unexploded bombs.
According to one of the women, these life-shattering accidents happen in Afghanistan and elsewhere every day.
VPR’s Susan Keese has more.
(Keese) In a breezy retrofitted garage next to her house in Dorset Martha Hathaway manages an international aid group.
Hathaway is a co-founder of Clear Path International. This is the group’s East Coast Headquarters. The small nonprofit has another office in Bainbridge Island Washington and staff and partner agencies in several Asian countries.
Its mission is to improve the lives of victims, families and communities affected by accidents with landmines and unexploded bombs.
Hathaway says many of the injured are already poor.
(Hathaway) “People that are already living a marginal lifestyle in terms of economics – when somebody is injured or killed their whole life is turned upside down, they really go into an emotional and financial tail spin. And we feel our job is try and stop that downward spiral before they lose everything.”
(Keese) Hathaway describes a woman named Ha from Vietnam. She was a teenager, out in the fields where her mother was working, when she found a white phosphorous bomb.
Hathaway says White phosphorous is often put in mortars.
(Hathaway) “When it explodes the chemical will burn and continue to burn until the source of oxygen is cut off. So it’s a hideous, hideous thing and incredibly painful for survivors and was quite commonly used during the Vietnam conflict. So we have a fairly large number of people we deal with who have white phosphorous burns.”
(Keese) Ha was so badly burned, and so poorly treated that her calves and thighs were fused together by the heat. Then her parents died and she was left to care for her younger siblings, hobbling on her knees.
Hathaway says Clear Path arranged for multiple operations for Ha. After years of physical therapy she’s now able to walk, and earn a living.
(Hathaway) “And we have hundreds of stories like that.”
(Keese) Hathaway got involved with Landmine issues in college in the early nineties. She went to Vietnam and saw first-hand the havoc left behind explosives wreak on people who weren’t even born when the war was going on.
She and some co-workers, including her husband James, formed Clear Path six years ago. Through grants, donations and events the group raises about a million dollars annually to support its work.
Another co-founder is Kristen Leadem, who grew up in Manchester.
Leadem works in Nepal now. But she’ll be going to Afganistan with Hathaway, to assess how to help land mine accident victims in an ongoing war.
Hathaway says decades of fighting have left Afghanistan full of unexploded bombs. Not all are from Russia and the U.S.
(Hathaway) “Landmines, specifically are extremely cheap to produce. They’re very easy to come by. And then you have the small light arms/light weapons trade, which is a real significant issue globally. They’re easy to transport, easy to hide. So they’re becoming a significant threat globally because it’s fairly easy for a group to arm themselves.”
(Keese) Hathaway says the project in Afghanistan is something new for the state department. She says the U.S. has invested heavily in land mine removal.
(Hathaway) “But the reality is it’s going to be many many years before the risk is reduced by removal to subsequently reduce the accidents that are happening. So until that day, state department realizes that there’s a moral obligation to help people that continue to be injured.”
(Keese) Hathway doesn’t know exactly what she’ll find in Afghanistan. But she knows that wars are never really over for the people living on the land where they’ve taken place.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.