War Child Television Series Joins Mine Awareness Campaign
“The Garden,” one
film in a new series entitled War Child, raises mine awareness and
presents ways individuals may become involved with the issue.
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The debilitating effects that landmines and pieces of
UXO inflict on a society are a common reality for those living in
contaminated areas, as well as for those working in the mine action
community. Unfortunately, the severity of the problem is oftentimes
unknown by those living in “mine-free” areas. Recently, however, there
has been a trend to bring mine awareness campaigns into these “unaffected” societies. The work done by TV producer R.E. Altman is
one such example.
“The Garden” is a one-hour drama that focuses on the
specific problems many regions of the world face on a daily basis and
offers a positive role groups and individuals can engage in to assist
victims. It is the third film in a series entitled War Child.
The series presents a broad array of issues that children face in war.
The first film, “Abduction,” is a story about the lives of child
soldiers living in Uganda. “His Name is Daniel,” the second film,
illustrates the horrible treatment Bosnian women suffered during the
Bosnian War, particularly that of Muslim women, and how the Serbs used
rape as a tool of war. The programs together comprise a collection of
first-person glimpses into the harsh realities facing the world today.
“…landmines are not only a global
problem, but one right in our own backyard.”
In an interview with Mr. Altman, he discussed some of
the reasons for making the film, “The Garden.” Like many Americans, he
did not realize the seriousness of the issue of landmines and UXO.
While he was conducting initial research through the United Nations
International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) on the conditions
children face in war, he discovered several of the major implications
landmines have on communities in former war zones. Enlightened with
this information and taken back by the large number of casualties,
Altman began researching the issue in more depth. The producer
consulted with Adopt-A-Minefield, the U.S. State Department and the
newly released issue of the Journal of Mine Action, “Landmines in
Central and South America” in order to gain more extensive background
information and pursue a storyline.
The script for “The Garden” was set in the rural
region of Latin America. Altman explained that this decision was of
strategic importance. He said, “I very much wanted to do a landmine
story that was part of our own hemisphere so that the audience, and
particularly the student audience, would clearly get the message that
landmines are not only a global problem but one right in our own
The timing of his research happened to coincide with
the Third Meeting of States Parties to the Ottawa Treaty held in
Managua, Nicaragua, last year. Altman jumped at the opportunity to
attend the convention. He flew down to Nicaragua and listened in on a
number of the meetings that took place. After the convention, Altman
met with the Minister of Defense, also the head of demining in
Nicaragua, Dr. Jose Guerra. Dr. Guerra informed Altman that, through
work conducted by his department with the Organization of American
States (OAS) and other international groups, Nicaragua would become
landmine-free by 2005. To date, they have cleared approximately half
of the 140,000 landmines planted in the country during the war years.
Altman felt encouraged by the information and believed
he could produce a film with an ending full of hope. While he was
still in Nicaragua, Handicap International coordinated a trip for him
to visit six different families living in the mined mountain areas of
the country. Talking with the children and landmine victims firsthand
allowed the filmmaker to appreciate more fully the hardships and
struggles these communities face on a daily basis.
“The Garden” is a fictional story, but one based on
truth and actual events. It is the story of a 14-year-old girl named
Maria whose family lives in a small mountain village in Nicaragua,
along the border with Honduras. The civil war between the Sandinista
army and the Contra Rebels 14 years before has left her village
littered with mines. After Hurricane Mitch ripped through the country
in October 1998, Maria’s village is swept by giant mudslides and many
mines move from their marked-off areas. The entire village is left in
an even more devastating state of desperation. Fields cannot be
cultivated and cattle cannot graze because of the unknown locations of
landmines. Maria “walks on tiny footpaths, never wandering” for fear
of stepping on a mine. Then one day, while the she takes her family’s
only cow to graze on a designated clear-field, she steps on a landmine
and loses her leg.
After a long rehabilitation process, Maria is fitted
with a prosthetic leg and relearns how to walk. She becomes friends
with another child in the hospital, and he encourages her to share her
story and the story of her village over the internet. A group of
junior high school students in the United States discover Maria’s
story and decide to help. They are able to raise enough money to have
the Nicaraguan army clear her village of mines, and growth and
prosperity return to the village.
While the storyline is modeled on real events and
facts, “The Garden” is a fable. Altman explained that
the “garden” is actually used to represent land healed by the removal
of mines. The film also demonstrates that if individuals become
involved with an issue, they can make a difference. Altman stressed, “I felt that using Nicaragua as an example would make the point, that
by working together we could actually have an effect. If Nicaragua
becomes one of the first demined nations, it will have a huge impact
on motivating people, particularly youth culture, to get involved with
the issue.” The program is hosted by Paul and Heather McCartney,
Goodwill Ambassadors for Adopt-A-Minefield. The Polus Center’s Walking
Unidos, the OAS, the ICBL and the U.S. State Department also helped
with the production.
The series War Child and the film “The Garden”
have been designed for a family audience. At present, an effort is
being mounted to distribute the film to every school across the United
States. Altman commented, “The concept of outreach, the idea that
third world victims can create pen-pal relationships with first world
students was a big part of this particular storyline. We want to
introduce the film into classrooms so that kids can actually
personalize the issue. It makes it more of a realistic issue for them
if they know the people they are involved with and what the end
results of their efforts are.” Mark Hyman, a middle school teacher and
member of Global Care Unlimited, wrote a teacher’s guide that will be
used in coordination with the film to launch a landmine awareness
initiative in schools. Their hope is that this effort will eventually
culminate in a “Landmine Day” in schools across the country.
Hallmark Entertainment funded the series War Child.
Efforts are underway to place the series on PBS within a year.
The U.S. State Department media note of the release of
“The Garden” and the entire series can be found at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2002/13637.htm
Global Care Unlimited
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Tenafly, NJ 07670