Proud Students Against Landmines
by Kateland Shane [ Mine Action Information Center ]
At St. Francis de Sales Central Catholic School in Morgantown, West Virginia, which has students ranging from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, what began in 1998 as an art project with old shoes became an inspiration for social justice and change. Today, a small organization of students at St. Francis, known as the Proud Students Against Landmines, or PSALM, meets once a week in the school art room to work on projects related to mine action.
When St. Francis art instructor Nora Sheets asked her students to create a sculpture using pairs of old shoes, she unknowingly inspired a new cause for her students. The goal of the art project was to educate the public about a very serious global issue: the devastating effects of landmines. The result was a massive, brightly painted sculpture of 500 shoes. Students researched facts and stories about landmines to add to the sculpture, which was designed to “represent the indiscriminate nature of the weapon through the use of various sizes and types of shoes. We had everything from soccer shoes to represent the children playing to boots representing workers in a field,” Sheets says.
The children of PSALM present their famous large shoe sculpture.
All photos courtesy of Nora Sheets
The shoe sculpture was a success—it traveled to communities in West Virginia and all the way to Washington, D.C. It has also become an annual event at St. Francis. Each year the art students work with PSALM to design a new sculpture, arranged in a peace symbol. In 2008, students painted the sculpture with the colors of the Colombian flag to raise awareness about landmines and cluster munitions in the country with the most landmine accidents in 2006, according the Landmine Monitor Report 2007.1
While working on the initial shoe sculpture, several students became interested in making the landmine issue a continuing humanitarian project at St. Francis. Accordingly, Nora Sheets started Proud Students Against Landmines, a student organization dedicated to the issue of landmines and cluster bombs. As of 9 June 2008, PSALM had 28 active student members at St. Francis. The student organization is also a working member of the West Virginia, United States and International Campaigns to Ban Landmines.
Nora Sheets and her students wearing the “hand”-painted T-shirts they made for Cluster Bomb Awareness Day at their school.
The PSALM Mission
Although they are young, the students of St. Francis and the members of PSALM are already making a difference in the world. With the guidance and encouragement of Sheets, members of PSALM actively create art projects, write letters, prepare presentations, make posters, attend conferences and organize events to raise awareness about this important international issue. Sheets helps her students stay informed by representing them around the world at mine-action workshops, presentations and conferences. The goals of PSALM are:
- To educate the public about landmines and cluster munitions
- To raise awareness about victims’ issues
- To encourage all countries to accede to the Ottawa Convention2 and the Convention on Cluster Munitions3
Past Projects and Activities
Members of PSALM, as well as other students at St. Francis, are actively involved in humanitarian relief efforts for landmine survivors. In 2001, St. Francis students raised enough money to buy a new prosthetic limb for a landmine survivor in Bosnia. Nora Sheets met the survivor while attending a humanitarian mine-action conference in Bosnia. She and her students still correspond with him to stay updated on his progress. Under the supervision of Sheets, students have also collected prostheses and medical supplies to send to landmine survivors in Nicaragua.
In 2006, PSALM sponsored a “Starfish Day” to raise funds for the construction of a water well in Cambodia. The project, known as Project Safe Water, is headed by the organization Landmines Blow!®, and was developed to benefit landmine survivors, internally displaced persons and refugees. PSALM sponsored a second “Starfish Day” in 2007 to again raise funds for Project Safe Water.
PSALM members are also reaching out to the public to raise awareness about the effects of landmines and cluster bombs. In 2001, a student member of PSALM appeared on both C-SPAN and CNN to discuss St. Francis students’ work with the Campaign to Ban Landmines. St. Francis students have given presentations to members of Congress, Queen Noor of Jordan, and Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, who visited the school to speak with and commend the students for their activism.
PSALM members continue to educate the public through their original medium of expression: art. St. Francis students still use the original shoe sculpture every year to show the effects of mines. Seven students from St. Francis won a poster competition in 2003 sponsored by the Landmine Resource Center at the University of Balamand in Beirut, Lebanon. As a result, their work is featured in a book entitled A Mine-Free World: Through the Eyes of Today’s Children.4
Recent Projects and Activities
2008 has been a busy year for PSALM and St. Francis. In May, St. Francis students’ artwork, banners and sculptures were displayed in Washington, D.C., for Cluster Munitions Awareness Day, which was held in conjunction with The Dublin Diplomatic Conferenceon Cluster Munitions. PSALM recently hosted a “birthday party” to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ottawa Convention. On 10 May, the students traveled to Washington, D.C., to distribute information with Landmines Blow! at the Pope John II Cultural Center at Catholic University.
PSALM Continues to Grow
Nora Sheets and the members of Proud Students Against Landmines deserve recognition for their caring and devout activism. The small organization continues to grow. Sheets recently held a meeting for students interested in joining PSALM and an additional 30 students attended. What motivates them? Sheets explains, “What really inspires these kids is the desire for all children to be able to live in a safe environment, free from the dangers of landmines and cluster munitions.”
Kateland Shane began working for The Journal of ERW and Mine Action in May 2006. She graduated from James Madison University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science in technical and scientific communication. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts at JMU.
- Landmine Monitor Report 2007: Toward a Mine-Free World. International Campaign to Ban Landmines. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2007/colombia.html. Accessed 6 November 2008.
- Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, Oslo, Norway. 18 September 1997. The document was opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, 3 December 1997, commonly known as the Ottawa Convention. http://www.icbl.org/treaty/text/english. Accessed 21 August 2008.
- The Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Dublin, Ireland, 19–30 May 2008. Also referred to as CCM. Proposed complete ban on cluster munitions with victim assistance and decontamination information standards. The convention opens for signature, Oslo, Norway, December 2008. www.clustermunitionsdublin.ie. Accessed 3 October 2008.
- A Mine-Free World: Through the Eyes of Today’s Children. Beirut: Landmine Resource Center, University of Balamand, 2004. A copy of the book can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- E-mail correspondence with Nora Sheets. 9 June 2008.
The Journal of ERW and Mine Action
Mine Action Information Center
Center for International Stabilization and Recovery
James Madison University
Art Instructor, Sponsor/Coordinator of PSALM
St. Francis de Sales Central Catholic School
395 Scott Avenue
Morgantown, WV / USA 26508 USA