April 16, 2004: Headlines: COS - Mauritania: Land Mines: Service: NGO's: Springfield News Leader: Mauritania RPCV Ken Rutherford organized a day-long event in land-mine awareness

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mauritania: Peace Corps Mauritania : The Peace Corps in Mauritania: April 16, 2004: Headlines: COS - Mauritania: Land Mines: Service: NGO's: Springfield News Leader: Mauritania RPCV Ken Rutherford organized a day-long event in land-mine awareness

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Mauritania RPCV Ken Rutherford organized a day-long event in land-mine awareness

Mauritania RPCV Ken Rutherford organized a day-long event in land-mine awareness

Mauritania RPCV Ken Rutherford organized a day-long event in land-mine awareness

SMS offers graphic lesson in land-mine awareness

Students confronted with the deadly reality of explosive devices.

A simulated land mine waits to be discovered by students learning about the deadly effects of the weapons, which are used worldwide, during Landmine Awareness Day.
Bob Linder / News-Leader
SMS students (top) try to locate buried simulated land mines at Landmine Awareness Day. At left, Reuben Martin (front right), and Judy Kiagiri try on the heavily armored land-mine suits. Personnel from Fort Leonard Wood also explained clearance procedures.
Bob Linder News-Leader

Bob Linder / News-Leader

By Steve Koehler
News-Leader Staff

The students were on their knees, carefully eyeing the patch of green grass beneath them while slowly running their fingers through the turf.

They weren't looking for coins or keys they lost.

They were hunting for land mines.

Hundreds of students, from middle school to college, took part Thursday in the first Landmine Awareness Day at Southwest Missouri State University, designed to give students an education, insight and hands-on exposure into the use and deadliness of land mines around the world.

Ken Rutherford, an assistant professor of political science, and officials with the U.S. Department of State, which helped Rutherford organize the day-long event, said SMS may be the first U.S. university to hold such an event.

"This is a hands-on model for what we should be doing," said James Lawrence with the state department's Office of Weapons Abatement and Removal.

Students came from as far away as St. Joseph's Academy in St. Louis and from local middle- and high-school classes, along with Rutherford's students.

There were demonstrations on explosive and land mine detection, the use of dogs in finding land mines and information about land-mine survivor assistance programs and groups.

The students saw graphic photographs of the devastating impact land mines can have on the human body along with the vast array of different devices used to injure or maim victims.

Experts from the Humanitarian Demining Training Center at Fort Leonard Wood showed students how mines are found using human hands or a dog's nose.

An estimated 80 million land mines are in more than 60 countries. The U.S. spends $800 million a year in demining efforts and related work.

Rutherford, who lost his legs to a land mine in Somalia 10 years ago, said there was a lot for students to absorb in a day, but hopes what they learned will have an impact on them.

"This gives them a hands-on experience of what soldiers and civilians face and the pollution that remains on the battlefields," he said.

Difficult to find

Students giggled nervously when they tripped a wire that was stretched across a sidewalk. They were just as surprised when they were told of a land mine hidden in a tree not far from where they were standing.

Bill Earney, a course instructor from the demining center at Fort Leonard Wood, ordered the students to get on their knees and feel for the tiny prongs of mines hidden inches in front of them.

Katie Taylor, a junior at SMS, said the search was "unbelievable."

"I didn't know how difficult it was to find them," she said. "This has a lot more impact than just hearing about it."

Judy Kiagiri, an international student at SMS from Kenya, tried on the 75-pound demining suit experts wear when working in a mine field.

"It was heavy. It was nice to see firsthand what it's like," she said, adding that looking for land mines was "scary."

Her friend, Regina Gakinya, also an international student from Kenya, said much work needs to be done to eliminate land mines.

"We need to educate the locals (in Africa) about them," she said.

Lawrence said he hoped students who spent time at the demonstrations would use the experience later in their lives by joining the Peace Corps or writing a check to an organization working to eliminate land mines.

"Students are being educated by people who are actually doing the work and getting their hands dirty. They can't help but be impressed," he said.

'An amazing experience'

Ryan Overfield, who graduated from SMS last December, worked last summer at the Landmine Survivors Network in Washington, D.C., which had a booth at Thursday's event.

Rutherford co-founded the organization shortly after losing his legs.

"It was an amazing experience. I was working with a dedicated group of people who are up there changing the world," said Overfield, who said Rutherford got him interested in the issue.

"He opened this portal for me and let me see the world from a different perspective. Now, I'm hoping to get involved in human rights work."

Lisa McCroskey, a junior at SMS from Marionville, will be working at the network this summer.

"I'm giving my efforts to help promote the cause," she said. "I'll be totally exposed to the reality and seriousness of the situation."

That's what Rutherford hopes happened with a lot of the students who attended Thursday's event.

"Three, four, 10 years from now they are going to remember what they (saw) today," he said.

Contact reporter Steve Koehler at skoehler@News-Leader.com.

Inside: World land-mine map, bodily injury chart. 5A

Coming Sunday: A two-day series begins about the life and work of Ken Rutherford of SMS, a land-mine victim and activist.

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Story Source: Springfield News Leader

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Mauritania; Land Mines; Service; NGO's



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