Land mine victims around the world globe are applauding the work of Soroptimist International, an assistance program working to support the development of less fortunate people across the globe. A fund raising campaign for one of its endeavors, Limbs for Life, has proven to be the most profitable project launched in the past 82 years. A minimum goal to raise $500,000 was set for March 2003, but this amount has more than doubled, and there is more to come.
In late 1999, Soroptimists became attune to the assistance the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was providing to help rehabilitate land mine victims.
although a ban has been placed on the use of land mines, these hidden weapons maim or cut short the life of thousands of innocent civilians every year. The damaging effects of anti-personal mines, planted years ago, are ongoing.
Noting the deep injustice of land mine accidents, Soroptimists raised money for the Community Landmine Education Programme to train select people from Laos to survey, mark and clear andmines. The following year, more money was donated to assist efforts to clear heavily mined areas in Angola, providing refugees a safe pathway to return to their homeland from Zaire and Zambia, where they had sought refuge.
It is no wonder that Soroptimists, with clubs in 124 countries, agreed in 1999 to adopt Limbs for Life as their Four Year International Project. Once Soroptimists called attention to the cause, clubs lined up to donate the funds necessary to buy artificial limbs, as well as to give victims the chance to return to a self-sufficient life.
As a result of their efforts, mothers now can take care of their own children, prepare meals, work in the fields and gather water. Children have the facility to attend school and play outside without the fear that that brightly colored ball is a land mine and not a toy. And men finally are returning to their jobs with the knowledge that their families are safe from unseen predators waiting just below the surface of the land.
An amputee must replace his or her prostheses every five years, but a child must swap his or her old limb for a new one every six months. This means that a ten year-old child will need approximately 15 prostheses in his or her life, a number that often is not possible to obtain.
Soroptimists is well aware of the proliferation of land mines in Cambodia. Due to years of civil war and its unintended involvement in the United States' war against Vietnam, unexploded ordnances and land mines heavily pepper Cambodia's land, making it one of the most affected nations in the world.
In April 2002, over half the villages in Cambodia were either known to have or suspected of having land mines. Noting the hard work being done to eradicate the problem- 21.8 million square meters of land were cleared of mines in 2001- Soroptimists praised the Cambodian government, the United Nations, and anti-mine action non-governmental organizations for their efforts to rid the country of these indiscriminate killers.
Cambodia is one of 132 countries that have signed and ratified the Ottawa Treaty to prohibit the stock piling, production, transfer and use of anti-personel land mines. Of the 124 countries where Soroptimist clubs have formed, 15 have yet to sign the treaty, prompting Soroptimists to strengthen its efforts to convince these governments to ratify the ban.
While it costs little to make the mines, sometimes just $3, it can take thousands of dollars to disarm them. As a result, thousands of weapons remain hidden, lying in wait to turn innocent citizens into casualties of war. Every twenty minutes someone is killed or maimed by a land mine. A leg, an arm, a foot or a hand blown off- for these people, life will never be the same.
But some will be lucky. They will find their way to one of the Prosthetictorthotic Centers Committee of the International Red Cross, where they will be fitted with artificial limbs or orthoses and achieve a level of normalcy that once was only a dream.
Now, as Soroptimist International draws close to the July conclusion of its project, assessments are being done to gauge the success of its Limbs for Life projects in Afghanistan, Angola and Georgia.
The following details describe what efforts were taken in 2002, efforts that reflect the work completed throughout the project's four years.
Afghanistan's newly established governing body has improved security and diminished the front lines of war. This has provided disabled people with easier access to ICRC Orthopedic Centers, and allowed Soroptimist to assist 185 victims in 2002.
The reopening of roads in Angola has facilitated victims' access to orthopedic centers. Unfortunately it also has caused a significant number of new mine accidents, which necessitated a 'mine awareness program.' Of all the people fitted with artificial limbs, 50% are new patients. The amount contributed by the beginning of 2002 enabled 95 patients to receive Soroptimist help.
In Georgia, Soroptimist contributions to the Tbilisi and Gagra Centers enabled support staff to treat 145 disabled people with orthopaedic appliances last year alone. Ten years after the end of hostilities, there are still many new amputees. Members of the local Soroptimist club still oversee what is happening in Tbilisi.
The dangerous conditions of these countries and of Cambodia reflect the long-term consequences of sometimes short-term conflicts.
Reported numbers of people assisted by land mine action programs do not accurately reflect the significance of anti-mine efforts. One must consider the cruel fate of an innocent civilian caught in the crossfire of someone else's war to understand that every life or limb restored is the making of a dream.
The realization of these dreams has been facilitated by the centers, which provide services in the following areas:
" Fitting of prostheses and orthoses
" Production and repairs of prosthe ses and orthoses
" Production and repairs of rehabilitative aids (wheelchairs, crutches, walking frames)
" Physical rehabilitation
" Provide training for local staff working for the Orthopaedic Centers
Since the beginning, ICRC Centres have employed disabled men and women, who would otherwise not have the means to support their families. They are employed as cleaners, welders, tailors, as well as nurses, physiotherapists and medical doctors. Patients who are ready to return to a normal life receive vocational training and a primary education. Job referrals and micro-credit facilities also are offered. All are designed to give the disabled the means to live a useful and purposeful life. ICRC Centers do not deal only with land mine victims; they also treat other disabled people, including those with spinal injuries, poliomyelitis and cerebral palsy.
The ICRC has worked in Cambodia since 1999. It currently is assisting orthopedic rehabilitation programs for amputees and teaching them to manufacture prostheses. The contribution Soroptimist members have made to Limbs for Life has helped hundreds of disabled persons, but the project is not yet finished.
Its work will be done at the Soroptimist International Convention in July to be held this year in Sydney, Australia. There, a final round of funding will be donated and the last benefactors of Soroptimist help will be announced.
Left over from wars, land mines lie in wait for the innocent. t is the privilege of Soroptimist International to help the victims!