Landmines. Fresh reminders of an old conflict, a war tactic that destroys enemies and friendlies indiscriminately, they are a recurring nightmare for those who live in former war zones. It’s definitely no laughing matter, but even a cartoonist can handle a serious subject deftly.
When I worked at VVAF, a former Washington-based organization founded by Vietnam veterans that addressed “the causes, conduct and consequences of war”, landmines featured in some way in each of our “Cs”. Among other things, the organization conducted landmine clearance activities in such countries as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Angola, through its Information Management and Mine Action Programs, called iMMAP.
“Funky Winkerbean” explored the all-too-real consequences of post-conflict environments: abandoned landmines and unexploded ordnance.
I collaborated with VVAF’s iMMAP team to tell the story of their work. iMMAP was active in Afghanistan–a particularly hot location given the political climate in 2005–developing actual maps, and marking those areas known (through word of mouth and other means) to be strewn with UXOs (“unexploded ordnance,” or in plain speak, landmines).
Around that time, we learned that a U.S. syndicated cartoonist, Tom Batiuk, was figuratively sending one of his characters to Afghanistan in his regularly published series, “Funky Winkerbean” to help with these efforts. VVAF’s iMMAP and I were more than thrilled to collaborate with Batiuk to promote this storyline of his comic strip and also to raise awareness of iMMAP’s landmine clearance efforts.
So, if a comic strip can raise awareness, imagine what you can do (even if you aren’t royalty)!
I was reminded of iMMAP and “Funky Winkerbean” when I learned this month that Mozambique has been declared landmine free, thanks to the efforts of the Halo Project.
Okay, so I’m not royalty, and my accomplishments aren’t as grandiose as those of Prince Harry or the late Princess Diana–but reading that story made me feel good about the work I have done and collaborated on. The many people I have worked with aren’t royalty either, and I know that they have accomplished big things to help make our world a little bit better.
Since 1975, land-mines have exploded under more than 1 million people and are currently thought to be killing 800 people a month. There seems little prospect of any end to the carnage. In 64 countries around the world, there are an estimated 110 million land-mines still lodged in the ground—waiting. They remain active for decades. As one Khmer Rouge general put it, a land-mine is a perfect soldier: “Ever courageous, never sleeps, never misses.”- UNICEF
Maybe writing isn’t exactly your thing
The power of storytelling can make positive change, but maybe writing and raising public awareness ain’t your thing. You can also call your legislators and local community leaders and let them know these things matter to you; you can share this information with your peeps through social media; or you can always donate to organizations (try iMMAP!) that are known for getting things done; or you can skip the news and head straight to the comics in your local paper!