Girl Scouts raise money for landmine victims

March 20, 2008

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

After a year of learning about landmines and landmine victims, Williston Girl Scout Aleksandra Stamper still can't believe there are so many of the deadly weapons in the world.

"I'm just surprised that so many people have put landmines in the ground to kill people," Stamper said.

Tens of thousands of people have been injured by landmines in hundreds of countries and many can't afford medical treatments to help with rehabilitation. That's where the Girl Scouts in Williston Troop 820 and Essex Troop 125 come in.

The scouts are gearing up for a March 28 fundraiser where they hope to raise $6,000 to benefit a landmine victim in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The victim's name is Anita. She lost a limb after stepping on a landmine more than five years ago.

"The $6,000 should cover the costs of medical expenses (for the victim), including prosthesis and treatments for emotional trauma," said Williston troop leader Jennifer Mignano.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Bosnia and Herzegovina is "heavily contaminated" with landmines. The Eastern European country formed after the former Yugoslavia was torn apart by war in the 1990s as different ethnic and religious groups fought over land. Now, tens of thousands of acres still hold untold amounts of landmines, and thousands of people have been killed or injured in the country.

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people are killed by landmines every year around the world, according to the Web site. That's more than 40 people a day.

Based on past fundraising successes the scouts have had, Essex troop leader Chandelle Trahan believes they can reach their goal of $6,000.

"We had such wonderful community support last time, I said why not take it further," she said.

Finding a cause

According to Mignano, the scout troops, looking to do "something with dogs" last year, raised $20,000 for the Marshall Legacy Institute's Children Against Mines Program, or CHAMPS — an organization that purchases, trains and deploys landmine dogs.

The dogs search for mines by smelling for chemicals the buried explosives give off over time, according to CHAMPS director Kimberly McCasland. When dogs discover a mine, they alert their handler immediately.

McCasland praised the Williston and Essex scouts for being the first in the country to raise money for landmine dogs. The girls did so through car washes, festival appearances, corporate and private donations and "lots and lots of bake sales," said Mignano. The money raised by the Girl Scouts sponsored a dog who they named Champlain, after their home lake and valley.

"They have gotten everyone involved in their community," McCasland said. "It's really a community dog they've sponsored."

Champlain is a Belgian Malinois, a common breed of landmine-detecting dog, who will most likely get deployed to Lebanon when it finishes training, Mignano said.

Champlain is the same breed of dog as Utsi, the canine that accompanies McCasland to different anti-landmine events across the country. Utsi is a retired landmine dog who had worked in the African country of Eritrea and has demonstrated her skills several times for the local scout groups.

"These dogs are the heroes of the countries (with landmines)," Mignano said. "They are the countries' greatest hope."

The big event

The fundraising event will happen next Friday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Catamount Golf Club. McCasland will be on hand with Utsi for demonstrations, and the Williston and Essex Girl Scouts will make presentations. A local song and dance group, the Bosnian Lilies, will perform. Sen. Patrick Leahy — a strong supporter of landmine deactivation — and his wife are expected to attend.

Mignano and Trahan said once the $6,000 is raised for Anita, they hope to continue raising more funds for landmine victims around the world.

"We want to keep going with (the fundraising) because the whole thing is going so great," said Mignano's daughter, Maria Mignano.

Trahan said the Girl Scouts have learned a lot through their efforts, including the advantages they have growing up in the United States.

"It's really hit home for our children that they're fortunate to be able to play in the backyard without getting blown up," she said.

For more information on the upcoming event, call Jennifer Mignano at 878-9577 or Chandelle Trahan at 872-8752. Admission is $30.