CEO'S CORNER: International Women's Day, March 8th
The vision for planting the Roots of Peace began in September 1997 following the tragic death of the late Princess Diana of Wales, and I was determined to make a difference by turning MINES TO VINES--replacing the scourge of landmines with bountiful vineyards and orchards worldwide. An Ancient Indian Proverb states, "Certain things capture your eye, but pursue only those that capture the heart."
As a Mother of four small children, I looked deeply into their own eyes and imagined a world where young legs are tragically blown off by kicking a soccer ball out of bounds in an African minefield. Or where children gathering wood in a Balkan forest, only to lose a parent to a remnant of war buried in the handful of sticks. Or, a Vietnamese teenage fixing his bike with a rock, which turns into a cluster munition and blinds him for life. As a Californian Mother, I had the privilege to hike Mt. Tamalpais and run the sands of Stinson Beach without the fear of landmines beneath the tiny feet of my children. My wise Granny once told me, "To whom much has been given, much is expected."
So, I embarked upon a global quest to turn MINES TO VINES. Many told me this was an impossible dream. But, as a cancer survivor, I looked at the word impossible and only saw this word with new eyes 'I'm possible!" And, so with the footsteps which I had remaining in life, I set forth to turn this impossible dream into reality with faith, not fear.
During the Harvest Season of 1997, I ventured forth to the Napa Valley to speak with proud vintners who were harvesting clusters of fresh grapes on world renown soils. Together, we spoke of the tragedy of cluster munitions which were harvested on former war-torn lands. A few days later the Nobel Peace Prize was given to Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), and I invited the vintners to join me to witness the signing of the Ottawa Treaty to Ban Landmines. Legends of the vine joined me in Canada including--Mondavi, Beringer and Wente--standing in solidarity with vintners around the world who till the soil in minefields.
Roots of Peace was incubated as a 501(c) as a fund of the Marin Community Foundation through the leadership of Dr. Thomas Peters. A few months later, we launched Roots of Peace at the World Trade Center in San Francisco with global luminaries such as Mrs. Kofi (Nane) Annan, Gillian Sorensen, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, and Carol Bartz, CEO, Autodesk.
Together with Robert and Margrit Mondavi, we hosted a GALA fundraiser in the private Dining Room of Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley. In one night, we raised $30,000 to be the first organization to 'Adopt-a-Minefield' with UNA/USA led by Sir Paul McCartney. In partnership, we allocated these funds to Dragalic, Croatia and legendary California vintner, Miljenko Grgich, Owner, Grgich Hills Estate joined me in the first month of the New Millennium to walk the minefields of his beloved homeland in Croatia.
On the 25th Anniversary of The Paris Tasting, Miljenko Grgich hosted a Gala fundraiser with 60 Napa Valley wineries at Domaine Chandon, which generously was matched by the U.S. Department of State, PM/WRA and ITF Trust Fund.
Over 1.2 million landmines were laid during The Balkan War, and we were determined to transform MINES TO VINES--replacing minefields with bountiful vineyards; blood to wine; killing fields into thriving farmland; swords to plowshares.
Over the years, many prominent 'women of the vine' and Napa/Sonoma wine owners joined our endeavors including Judy Jordan, Gina Gallo, Erika Hills, Violet Grgich, Dolores Cakebread, Margrit Mondavi, Shirley Dean and Diane Disney Miller. Together, we raised additional funds to remove landmines in Ilok, Ciste Male, Ciste Velika, Bibijne, Bastica and Vukovar. Today, Croatia has gone from war-torn vineyards into a thriving tourist destination within the past two decades! Peace is possible, if we only have the faith and tenacity to 'dig deeper'--fruit of the vine, and the work of human hands.
After the tragic 9/11 attacks, it was a defining moment when we asked ourselves if the world had just become to dangerous to take on the issue of landmines.
Again, we decided to persevere and traveled to U.C. Davis to learn that 70 varietals of grapes originated in Afghanistan. Our MINES TO VINES initiative expanded to the Shomali Plains with funds donated by Diane Disney Miller, daughter of Walt Disney, who supported our grounded creativity to plant peace.
USAID funded our replanting program, as we introduced trellis grapevines which lifted the grapes from the mounds and created high value crops for Afghan farmers.
Over the years, we planted 5 million fruit trees in all 34 provinces, impacting over 1 million farmers and families in Afghanistan. The impossible dream was taking root!
ABC7 News Anchor Cheryl Jennings and Hollywood Actress Diane Baker joined me in Afghanistan to professionally film and document our 'Harvest of Hope'.
Over 35,000 commercial orchards were planted, as Roots of Peace analyzed the market for fresh fruits which once earned Afghanistan the reputation as 'The Garden of Central Asia.' The 'taste of peace' was sweet, as we ate the fresh fruit grown on former minefields!
Our efforts continued to the Middle-East, as a young Israeli boy named Daniel Yuval stepped on a landmine at age 10 while playing in a rare snowball fight.
The white snowflakes covered the red warning sign LANDMINES, and he tragically lost his leg. Daniel invited me to his homeland, and asked me to help him to make a Mine-Free world so that other children wound not have to suffer. Together, we lobbied at The Knesset with landmine survivor Jerry White, who escorted the late Princess Diana through Bosnia only a few weeks prior to her tragic death.
Our trio succeeded in bringing forth unanimous legislation at The Knesset for the first-ever Humanitarian Mine Action Bill which was passed.
Once again, generous Napa Valley vintners Shirley and Paul Dean, Owners, Spiriterra Winery, donated the funds to eradicate the landmines. We focused our efforts in The Fields of Bethlehem where eight children had died due to explosions from the remnants of war. It was a Muslim village governed by Israel, located only three miles from where Jesus Christ was born in the Manger. Three faiths came together, as we planted the Roots of Peace in The Holy Land--another impossible dream come true!
As a graduate of U.C. Berkeley during the 1970's, we watch the perils of The Vietnam War unfold. Yet, today there are millions of landmines, UXO and cluster munition which remain buried in the ground long after the guns have silenced.
Since 2009, Roots of Peace has raised funds and awareness to turn MINES TO VINES in Vietnam--replacing minefields with bountiful black pepper vines in Quang Tri province, former DMZ. We have also worked in Binh Phouc to plant cacao and cashews, so that farmers have the dignity to grow high value crops for export.
Today, over 5000 Vietnamese farmers have been trained by Roots of Peace, and we are exporting fresh black pepper to Morton and Bassett Spice Company!
Dreams have been turned into reality, as we give the world a 'taste of peace.'
Working with our Rotary Club partners with San Francisco #2, Rotary District #5150, and Rotary China, we are focused on raising $20 million by Earth Day 2020 to eradicate all explosive remnants of war in Quang Tri province--healing the wounds of war for future generations. Thriving black pepper vines are growing on former battlefields, and the 'economics of peace' is expanding across the land.
On this International Women's Month, I salute all the brave women who have contributed to our dream to turn MINES TO VINES and plant the Roots of Peace.
Our Country Directors are both competent business women, who are dedicated towards our mission in war-torn lands. It is not easy. On March 28, 2014, our Roots of Peace compound was attacked by The Taliban in a four hour battle.
Yet, as women of substance, we made a clear decision to continue our efforts for the sake of children and families who benefit by the fruits we are growing and exporting.
Last month, we attended GULFOOD in Dubai, where Afghan Traders met with Indian and U.A.E. buyers through our USAID/CHAMP funded program.
In 2015, over $1 million was negotiated in agricultural trade deals, and today over $100 million was negotiated in just three days (February 16-19) bringing economic stability to the country. The Kandahari traders with burly black beards and smiles presented gifts of dried fruit to us, in appreciation for giving them the dignity to grow alternative crops on former war-torn lands to benefit their families.
As I speak at the 63rd UN Commission on the Status of Women on March 15th, I will share these stories with a global audience. However, it is most meaningful to share these personal stories with you, our supporters who take the time to read the Roots of Peace monthly NEWSLETTER!
For the first five years, I worked tireless hours from The Basement of my home with a shoebox for receipts. Most California entrepreneurs have built their dreams from The Garage (Steve Jobs and Walt Disney). As women, we often have to go subterranean to achieve our dreams! On this International Women's Day, I am proud of our deep roots which began in the basement, and now has grown into an international charity managing over $100 million in grants.
Together, may we cherish our dreams as we seek to plant the Roots of Peace on Earth...