Quakers have long made charitable action an integral part of their religious practice, and many Quakers continue this tradition today. War has touched most corners of the globe, and the resulting effects remain for decades after the last bullet is fired. According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people are killed or maimed by landmines and other ground-based explosives each year, with a large portion being civilians. Tragically, children account for one in every five landmine victims in many mine-affected countries. Their plight does not go unnoticed, and there are people who are working to make a difference.
Starting in 2008, Woodstown (N.J.) Meeting and Birmingham Meeting in West Chester, Pa., have organized to purchase and donate nearly 100 Schonstedt GA-72Cd magnetic locators to be used as mine detectors. The magnetic locators are serious equipment, costing $1,041 each and capable of detecting any number of ground-based explosives for removal. They work by detecting the magnetic field of iron or steel objects and emitting audible beeps that peak in frequency when a locator’s tip is held directly over a target underground. The manufacturer of the devices, Schonstedt Instrument Company, also generously matches each donation through its Humanitarian Demining Initiative: with 98 given for the 98 Friends have purchased, totaling 196, accounting for about one third of all Schonstedt detectors deployed through the initiative (576 to date). They have been deployed by the United Nations to 30 countries devastated by war, including Nepal, Gaza, Libya, Mali, and Afghanistan.
Friends have paid for the equipment mostly in private donations, with a smaller portion attributed to group fundraising from various events and public sales, such as Woodstown Meeting’s annual Strawberry Supper (not held in 2020), which raises money for a number of causes, and sales of fair-trade coffees, teas, and chocolates, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the demining project. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed event-based fundraising a little, but Friends were still able to pull in enough for ten detectors in 2020.
A Schonstedt GA-72Cd magnetic locator on display at Woodstown (N.J.) Meeting. Photo by Carleton Crispin.
Not everyone has the financial means for philanthropic giving as a way to respond to a worthy cause. So I was curious to hear from these Friends about why they give and continue to give and how their Quaker beliefs influence that decision. Donna Gibson, a member of Woodstown Meeting who has long been involved in the project, recalled a recent experience she had working as a home visiting nurse practitioner in West Philadelphia, Pa. She met a family caring for a bedridden former soldier who had been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury after she stepped on an unexploded landmine while serving in the U.S. military. “It seems that the call to support humanitarian demining surrounds me,” Donna said. “And the Spirit, along with an efficient process and effective path, has allowed others to join in this successful effort. It has been an affirming experience for me to witness how a variety of Friends at our monthly meeting have used their unique gifts, skills, and interesting talents to carry forth this project over the years.”
Among the Woodstown Friends who’ve shared their gifts is a Friend with grant writing skills who was able to obtain financial support from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM) for another Friend to travel to Vietnam and witness demining work being done in the field. The Woodstown community benefited from the information and experience shared by the Friend upon return. Another Friend used his skills to establish the Music at Friends series in 2016, which raises awareness of and participation in the demining project in the surrounding community. The event features jazz, pop, rock, and classical music, and its repertoire of artists has extended beyond the Philadelphia area. There is also a gifted Friend who keeps careful financial records of our donations, reliably communicates with Schonstedt Instrument Company, writes thank-you notes, and frequently serves as an eloquent and effective spokesperson for the project locally and throughout PYM.
Ted Brinton of Birmingham Meeting educated himself about the dangers of unexploded ordnance, and then invited Frank Lenik, a member of Woodstown Meeting, to the next Peace Fair at Birmingham to demonstrate how the landmine detectors work. (Frank, who is a professional land surveyor, first got the idea for the demining project after attending a trade show in 2007 where Schonstedt had a booth.) Soon after Frank’s demonstration, Birmingham Meeting’s Peace Center Committee started a fundraising campaign, including efforts such as selling plants and flower bulbs, craft items (notably quilts and quilted handbags made by meeting member Ruth Young), and peace t-shirts. Ted commented on the concrete nature of purchasing landmine detectors as a way to advance peace: “Saving the lives and limbs of farmers and children working in landmine-laden fields is something that everyone can easily picture and relate to. I felt that a practical antiwar action was missing at the meeting at the time.” He also likes the fact that Schonstedt matches each landmine purchased, doubling the effectiveness of the money collected.
John Lavin was part of the Chester County Peace Movement, a local antiwar organization, when the group was invited to collaborate with Birmingham Meeting to help build a peace center and garden. They quickly decided to do a fundraiser to remove landmines as part of the overall mission. John says he became a Quaker because of the project. “After working with Friends for many months, I also began to attend meeting for worship with them and found that the experience spoke to me. Our politicians are captured by the military–industrial complex and ignore our pleas for peace. With this effort, even if we can’t stop our country’s war making, we can help the healing process after conflicts have ceased.”
Today in 2021 opinions on the world’s trajectory differ. Most agree it’s a mix of good and bad, and I’ve yet to encounter anyone who doesn’t wish for the best. In 2016, Woodstown Meeting was honored with a certificate of appreciation in Washington, D.C., by the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. A spokesperson stated, “Woodstown Monthly Meeting is helping farmers, schoolchildren, and other innocent civilians worldwide to walk the Earth in safety.” If 200 or so people can help tens of thousands live without fear half a world away, what could we all do as a religion, a nation, and as a world?