2014: A Year Dedicated to Peace
The promise of the year began with a kaleidoscope of color in Mumbai, India, as I was honored to be invited as keynote speaker for ‘Care of The Earth’—speaking to hundreds of students regarding our humanitarian efforts to replace the scourge of landmines with bountiful vineyards. January was a month of inspiration and hope, as I walked in the footsteps of Ghandi in search of peaceful solutions. And so the month of February unfolded peacefully with the honor of receiving the ‘Heroes of Compassion’ Award by His Holiness The Dali Lama. Roots of Peace has always deeply respected our interfaith ‘roots’ defined by the seeds we share in common rather than those which separate us, so it was a special moment of recognition for the sincere compassion we bring to farmers and families worldwide.
Our spirits were high but on March 28, 2014 our peaceful images were shattered when we woke to the news of an attack on our Kabul guest house in Afghanistan. While mourning the loss of the 7 Afghans who were killed in the attack, we were very fortunate that all of our staff were able to survive the attack until the Afghan National Police could come in and secure the site.
Roots of Peace faced a critical decision on this day—to close our doors, or face this challenge by planting the roots of peace in the ground more firmly than ever. Together, our team chose the latter. I thank my staff around the world for their incredible strength during this trying time and for never wavering in their commitment to our mission to plant peace. Spring is a time to plant, and Afghanistan is a country which is 80% dependent upon agriculture. The seeds must be planted in the ground, so that a fruitful harvest may be yielded to benefit Afghan farmers in the Fall.
Ultimately, we forged ahead to reap a historic harvest of fresh grapes, pomegranates, apples, apricots, and other high-value crops creating 7000 full time jobs, working in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan and exporting over 14,000 metric tons into new markets in India, UAE, Russia and Canada,. Together, we literally ‘planted the roots of peace’ on earth.
In May, I had the honor of travelling to Israel and Palestine. I met with both the Sheikh of Jerusalem, Grand Mufti of the Golden Dome, in Ramallah and with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem – my mission was to create a clear interfaith and humanitarian effort to ‘plant the roots of peace.’ Only a year before, we had engaged the support of both Israelis and Palestinians to remove landmines from the village of Husan where eight children had been killed by landmines. A Palestinian shepherd who lost his right arm to a landmine as a young boy, walked uphill with me, as I linked arms on the other side with a former Israeli General. Through growing hardship we must remember that peace is possible from the ground up, as we seek to remove deadly seeds of terror and build a peaceful future.
Walking through the minefields of the world, I ended the year by visiting our programs in Vietnam. Today, there are an estimated 3.5 million landmines, unexploded ordnance, and cluster munitions nearly forty years after the war has ended. Roots of Peace is now cultivating peace on former war-torn lands in Quang Tri province where over 80% of the land contains the remnants of war. Through our work, proud Vietnamese farmers are now growing fresh pepper, and doubling their income to help future generations to thrive.
As this year of ‘sunshine and shadow’ concludes, Roots of Peace remains more committed than ever to create lasting peace for farmers and their families worldwide. Our proven model provides economic empowerment for peace through agriculture. In 2015, we vow to continue our efforts to build a safer future from the ground up.