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Three People Making a Difference

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FAITH LAPIDUS: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Faith Lapidus.

BOB DOUGHTY: And I’m Bob Doughty. This week on our program, we tell you about three people who are working to make a difference in the world.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Heidi Kuhn lives in the San Francisco Bay area in California. She decided to do something special with her life after she was successfully treated for cancer. In nineteen ninety-seven, she started an organization to continue Princess Diana’s work to rid the world of landmines. Roots of Peace does more than help clear landmines. It also works to return the land to agricultural use.

Heidi Kuhn
Heidi Kuhn

Heidi Kuhn says landmines must be removed from the earth just as cancer is removed from the body. She began her organization with the idea of changing "mines into vines." The symbol for her group is a grapevine, which can represent a symbol of peace.

BOB DOUGHTY: Her Web site says more than seventy countries have about seventy million buried landmines. Each year they injure or kill about twenty-six thousand people.

Roots of Peace says a landmine costs anywhere from three to thirty dollars to produce and place in the ground. But the cost to remove one of the bombs is about one thousand dollars. Metal detectors cannot be used in many cases because landmines can be made of non-metal materials.

Dogs that are specially trained to smell landmines can be used to map out minefields. In some cases, remote controlled machines are used to remove the bombs. But in other cases, the mines must be carefully dug out by hand.

Roots of Peace supports the planting of native crops and the employment of landmine victims to farm the cleared land.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Heidi Kuhn’s family is also involved in the effort. Her husband Gary oversees operations in Afghanistan. Her daughter Kyleigh has organized a campaign that has raised enough money to build a school there. Her son Tucker works with farmers in Vietnam.

Heidi Kuhn has received many awards for her work. Roots of Peace has been recognized by the United Nations, the American State Department, Rotary International and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, among others.

HEIDI KUHN: Being a cancer survivor, there's no real cure to cancer. There's no real cure to AIDS. But there is a cure to the landmine issue, and that is removal. So this is something that is tangible. And as we remove the seeds of hatred from the ground, the seeds of terror, and plant agricultural alternatives so that peace and prosperity may lead the next generation forward.”



Joel Selanikio
Joel Selanikio

Joel Selanikio is a medical doctor in Washington who developed technology that is saving lives in developing countries. The technology is helping public health services collect information to follow the spread of diseases and to better organize their work.

Doctor Selanikio says he first recognized a need when he worked for the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The paper-based way that health workers collected public health information was slow. Analysis of the information could take more than a year.

Doctor Selanikio recognized that handheld computers could improve this situation. For example, they could produce better and faster responses to outbreaks of disease.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Doctor Selanikio and Rosa Donna started in two thousand three. DataDyne is a nonprofit organization that works to provide sustainable information technologies in poor areas.

The United Nations Foundation and the Vodaphone Foundation provided financial help to develop an open-source data collection tool. The software is called EpiSurveyor. It works much faster than paper-based information collection. EpiSurveyor is free of charge and can be downloaded onto mobile devices.

Doctor Selanikio says there are no barriers to its use.

JOEL SELANIKIO: "Instead of collecting data today to plan for a campaign next year, changing from that to collecting data today to plan for what we do tomorrow, that is a pretty radical change."

The software can be used with any Web browser and requires no special training. DataDyne’s Web site calls it the most widely used health software in the world.

For example, in Zambia and Kenya, EpiSurveyor has made it easier to organize campaigns to vaccinate children against measles. The software has been used as part of a vaccination program that has greatly reduced measles deaths in Africa. EpiSurveyor has also been used in efforts to fight H.I.V. and to help contain an outbreak of polio.

Last year, Joel Selanikio received the Lemuelson-MIT Award for Sustainability for his work in public health and international development. The award recognizes outstanding inventors who create new solutions to real-world problems.

The head of the Lemuelson-MIT Award program says Doctor Selanikio’s work has saved lives and strengthened the global public health system.



Lisa Nesser
Lisa Nesser

Lisa Nesser is an American who lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She operates a school there for children from Burma, the country also known as Myanmar. The school is called Thai Freedom House.

Lisa Nesser is originally from Saint Louis, Missouri. She worked in a Tibetan refugee camp in India before going to Thailand to help Burmese refugees. On the Thai Freedom House Web site, she says she recognized a need for education for Burmese street children in Chiang Mai. She says there was nowhere for them to feel safe and be kids.

LISA NESSER: "They don't have a country. They don't have their family structure here to support them. But if you can give them education and language and ways to express themselves, which is why we focus on the arts, that gives them another kind of freedom that otherwise they wouldn't have."

Most of her students are children of migrant workers form Shan state in Burma. They are not accepted in Thai schools because they are not citizens of the country and do not speak Thai.

LISA NESSER: "I was really trying to get them into regular schools and they just wouldn't take them, even when I offered to sponsor fees."

The children also do not have the time or money for regular school. They have to work to help support their families.

Lisa Nesser says children in her school who are as young as twelve work in construction or in noodle shops.

In the past few years, Thai Freedom House has taught English, Thai and art to about two hundred children. It also teaches them the Shan language. And the school brings in craft workers to teach the children how to make items that they can sell.

Lisa Nesser says her goal is to provide help for displaced people who are poor and have been denied their human rights. Her Web site says the school tries to show them "how to locate and use the resources available to them, within themselves and their communities."

NAM GAO, STUDENT: "I want to say, 'Thank you,' to the teachers [at Thai Freedom House]. If there was no home like this, I would have no place to go to continue my education. Thank you for Freedom House."

FAITH LAPIDUS: Our program was written by Nancy Steinbach with reporting by Daniel Schearf in Chang Mai, Natalia Ardanza in Washington and Eric Bersh in San Rafael, California. Caty Weaver was our producer. I'm Faith Lapidus.

BOB DOUGHTY: And I’m Bob Doughty. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs can be found at You can also post comments on our Web site and on our Facebook page at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.