A mission of awareness (USA)

04.04.2006 - A witness to the Sept. 11 attacks and other UWS peace studies students stage an exhibition to call attention to land mines


Hilary Buckwalter's first thought as she watched the second plane fly into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 was shared by many: "Why did this happen?"
Buckwalter, 28, a native of Two Harbors, watched the destruction from her rooftop across the Brooklyn Bridge that morning and inhaled as the dust and ash from the collapsed towers swept toward her.
She wondered "Why?" again as she watched the city turn into something akin to a war zone.
The question drove her to study Middle East politics on her own, and the urge to learn eventually drove her back to school.
Today, as an international peace studies student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, Buckwalter wants to spur others to care about another weapon that might seem a remote threat -- land mines.
Buckwalter and other peace studies students at UWS are hosting a land mine-awareness exhibition at the school, today through Thursday. The exhibit is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day in the student center.
The exhibit highlights the lingering threat of land mines in war-torn countries such as Bosnia and Cambodia. Unexploded land mines can lie in wait for many years, until they are decommissioned, set off by livestock or stepped on.
Political science professor Khalil Dokhanchi, a native of Iran who has studied the use and distribution of land mines, has spearheaded past land mine exhibits at UWS.
Dokhanchi also helps organize student trips to Bosnia, considered to be one of the most heavily land mined countries in the world.
Land mines were long considered an effective weapon. They are cheap, fairly reliable and don't put an army's own soldiers in much danger.
The problem, Buckwalter said, is that armies typically don't go back and remove unexploded land mines. They are left to take their toll on local people, often women and children foraging for firewood or food.
Peace studies students know land-mine awareness can be a tough sell in the Northland.
"The last thing a lot of people want to hear about is children getting their feet blown off," Buckwalter said.
UWS student Dominik Richardson agreed. "People aren't stepping on land mines when they're walking around Gooseberry Falls," he said.
Richardson visited Bosnia for three weeks last summer as part of the college's study-abroad program. While in Bosnia, visitors were told not to walk anywhere that wasn't covered with asphalt or concrete because of the danger of land mines.
Buckwalter said it is incredible that the United States is one of about 40 countries that hasn't signed the international mine-ban treaty.
Information about the treaty is included in the exhibit, along with a petition calling for the U.S. to join the 144 countries that have signed.
The U.S. also is one of 13 countries that still produce land mines, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. It can be difficult to even begin a conversation about the subject, Buckwalter said.
It also may be difficult to pique people's interest while still presenting rational, nonideological information on the topic, students said.
"That will be the biggest challenge with this exhibition," Richardson said.
The students have collected dozens of pairs of shoes in remembrance of victims of land mines. It is estimated that every 22 minutes, someone dies from stepping on a land mine, and many more are injured or maimed every day.
The shoes will be piled as part of the exhibit, and they will be donated to Bosnian villagers in May. The exhibit also includes a simulated mine field, samples of crude prosthetic limbs used by land mine victims and defused mines of many sizes.
Buckwalter, who will complete the peace studies program next year, culminating with her own trip to Bosnia, said she feels a "great responsibility" with this exhibition.
"We have thousands of lives on our shoulders," Buckwalter said. "This will be difficult, but rewarding."

Von: BY JANNA GOERDT, 04.04.2006, www.duluthsuperior.com

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