SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KGO) --A group of California philanthropists traveled to Vietnam recently to meet farmers who lost limbs to landmines leftover from the war, which ended over four decades ago.
There are 100,000 amputees in Vietnam right now and many of them are poor farmers. The donors ABC7 News traveled with is helping some of them by supporting the Bay Area's non-profit Roots of Peace.
ABC7 News met some of those amputee farmers at a health clinic dealing with their own harsh reality.
This team is making new, plastic legs for Vietnamese amputees at a clinic in a rural province. These are among the poorest farmers in Vietnam.
They desperately want to join the rest of the country's economic boom.
Big cities like the capitol, Hanoi, are filled with the images of a dynamic economy such as money, shopping, and culture, including opera and lots of traffic of all kinds.
Thousands of people fill the busy streets at Ho Chi Minh City, also called Saigon, with 10 million people, five million scooters racing to their next destination. But, in the rural areas, rusty bicycles may be the only way to get around.
The amputees are farmers working with the non-profit, Roots of Peace, based in Marin County. It teaches them how to grow high value crops and get them to market. Two groups of philanthropists, from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, wanted to see the programs first hand, so they paid their own way to fly to Vietnam.
They watched prosthetics being custom-made by volunteers from Mercer University in Georgia. The faith-based effort brings teachers and students here.
Mercer on Mission's leader Craig McMahan, Ph.D., just formed a partnership with Roots of Peace founder Heidi Kuhn. "We're right at about 5,000 prosthetic legs now," he said.
"They didn't even have the dignity of a human foot to give them balance. They would just hop and hobble through the fields, just to cultivate food for their families," Kuhn said.
A doctor who was born in Vietnam is helping the amputees. "Doctor Ha Van Vo is the designer of the prosthetic. He is South Vietnamese, grew up in post-war south Vietnam, and decided he wanted to do something for his country," McMahan said.
The Marin County group ABC7 News traveled with raised more than $100,000 to help fund programs like this through a Roots of Peace initiative called Peacebuilder.
They were overwhelmed after meeting the farmers and seeing the pride they had in getting new legs. "This gentleman had a hoof, a horse hoof as a leg and as of this week, he can walk again and supply an income for his family," Roots of Peace donor Gaby Federal said.
Prosthetics in the states can cost thousands of dollars Van Vo has gotten the cost down to $250 and the prosthetics are free to the farmers.
"People spend this much money on a bottle of wine and for $250, you have a leg. It just brought tears to my eyes," Karen Plastiras said.
But, many fields in which the farmers work still have explosives left over from war.
The US Department of State has provided millions of dollars to remove unexploded bombs, landmines and teach landmine awareness education.
The money is used to hire companies, like Mines Advisory Group, known as MAG, to demine, so Roots of Peace can help farmers replant.
The Marin donors had the satisfaction of helping the demining team prevent injuries to even more farmers.
The women were happy to help remove the landmines, and, enable farmers get new limbs at the same time. "These people who have been unfortunately injured, from landmines, now have new legs. They can work back in the fields again," Roots of Peace donor Marianne Mullins said.
"It's also given us inspiration to go back and raise more money for Roots of Peace that we can provide a leg for just $250," Roots of Peace donor Jill Kantola said.
The first major pepper harvest from farmers in the Roots of Peace program is now being marketed in California. Kuhn presented fresh pepper from the farmers to aides for President Obama and Vietnam's President Trandai Quang. On Wednesday, you'll see how investors can get involved on ABC7 News.
Click here for more stories by Cheryl Jennings about Roots of Peace and the nonprofit's work around the world.