When it comes to exposing children to complex world issues,
educators and policymakers seem to agree that dogs can be the best
teachers, paws down.
A good example is Rosa, a dog trained to detect land mines, who visited students at Paradise Valley Elementary School in Casper, Wyo., and demonstrated her skills as part of the Children Against Land Mines Program.
"It was a wonderful experience," said Christine Frude, the principal of the 400-student school. "The kids loved it. They were so impressed with what she could do."
The fund-raising program, developed by the Marshall Legacy Institute, an Arlington, Va., organization that trains mine-detection dogs, reaches out to children and schools to raise awareness of land-mine problems in many countries.
In some nations scarred by wars, mines remain buried and are a constant safety threat.
The program is important to have in schools, says Diana Enzi, a program volunteer and the wife of U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R- Wyo., because it teaches children about the difficulties people face outside the United States.
Last fall, representatives of the program visited schools throughout Wyoming and asked children to donate quarters toward the purchase and training of a new dog. Students across the state raised more than $14,000. On average, it costs about $20,000 to buy, train, and transport a dog trained to detect land mines.
The new dog, named Wyoming, is scheduled to arrive in the Southern Asian nation of Sri Lanka this week.
There are 700 dogs who can detect land mines now working in 23 countries, and an estimated 80 million land mines buried worldwide, according to experts. In 2002, nearly 11,700 people were either killed or severely injured by land mines.
The dogs, typically German shepherds or Belgian malinois, are trained to seek out the scent of explosives. That gives them an advantage over metal-detecting machines, since many land mines are made with bamboo, plastic, or cardboard casings. Once a dog has detected an explosive, it signals the find to its handler by sitting down.
Ms. Enzi said that officials plan to expand the school program nationwide, starting with Vermont, next year.
"It lets kids know that they can make a difference, a quarter at a time, and be world citizens," she said. "If they start caring now, then they always will."
—Marianne D. Hurst
Vol. 23, Issue 23, Page 3