Visiting Laos and Cambodia can be a bit frightening for anyone—especially a 14-year-old girl. "Why are we going there?" I whined on the plane to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I had just been reading an article about Asia's most dangerous countries, and it featured Cambodia. Why would my parents take me there?
Initial trepidations are often misleading: our trip to southeast Asia was a tremendous experience, and it has focused my life's interest since. It was there that I discovered the dreadful reality of landmines. Yet, among so many ruined lives I also found beautiful places and people with hope. The most important discovery was HALO Trust,1 a non-governmental organization devoted to solving the global landmine problem.
Tracey and her father (left) with two HALO employees in Afghanistan.
Photo courtesy of Tracey Begley
When HALO Trust opened a New York City office, I wanted to do more than simply learn about the issue. I became determined to be part of the hope. In 2004, my father and I visited Afghanistan with HALO so we could use our first-person knowledge to raise funds for the cause.
Visiting Afghanistan, we were awestruck not only by HALO's work, but by the country itself. It's a gorgeous land, full of ancient nobility, with magnificent, snow-capped peaks rising above the plains of Kabul. The Afghan people are incredible, too—we often found ourselves invited to meals or tea and even to a wedding party. They always humbly attributed this behavior to their culture.
HALO Trust has been demining in Afghanistan since 1988, and its work is not nearly done. HALO employs over 2,000 Afghan citizens as deminers and only two expatriates. These deminers are helping to return the land to their people and rebuild their country after many years of destruction. The hope in the deminers' faces and the patience of their hands are an inspiration to anyone who witnesses them performing their duties.
Deminer at work.
Photo by Tracey Begley
My family's support is the perfect complement to my enthusiasm. In Afghanistan, we were able to identify a village area, Panj Kala, that is a high priority for clearance. We returned home determined to help, and we have since been raising money for HALO Trust to demine this village. Demining in Panj Kala is now underway.
Shortly after I returned from Afghanistan, I found myself giving a speech to 100 interested New Yorkers at Christie's, the prestigious auction house, about the work of HALO Trust deminers I had met in Afghanistan. It was delightful to see the audience become so intrigued by the new information they learned that evening. Our efforts were successful; we raised $40,000 (U.S.) during that event and have continued to raise money for the cause.
I am not a deminer, a nonprofit worker or a governmental official. I am simply an interested student who has been inspired by the hope, cooperation, determination and patience of deminers in Afghanistan. I plan to continue my work to eliminate landmines and help all those who are plagued by them to have the freedom to pursue their lives and dreams.
Tracey Begley is a senior majoring in anthropology with a minor in Spanish at Bates College in Maine. She lives in New York City with her family and volunteers for the HALO Trust. She recently spent six months in Chile studying and writing about the landmine problem there. During the summer of 2005, she was a student intern with Save the Children in Washington, D.C.
Contact InformationTracey Begley
Student, Bates College
- HALO Trust is supported through donations by private and public donors. This includes the governments of Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the United States. Other donors include Anti Landmyn Stichting, the European Commission, Foundation Pro Victimis, The Association to Aid Refugees, The Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and the United Nations. More information can be found at http://www.halotrust.org.