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The Other Fellow—Half a World Away

By #18500 Bill and Carolyn Harper

The other fellow first is a guiding light. Its “gleam” is what first attracted my wife Carolyn and me to Dudley. It’s what we hoped would inspire our sons, #18778 Blake and #19903 Austin, when they eventually stepped into the circle of Camp. Those simple words have helped generations step across “troubled waters.” And yet, honestly, putting “The other fellow first” is rarely as simple as it seems. Sometimes the “other fellow” is well known to us and within reach—standing by our side or living across the street. Or, as Carolyn and I have learned, sometimes the “other fellow” is half a world away, and was once both a stranger and an enemy. Much like our life with Camp, our involvement with PeaceTrees Vietnam has reminded us, over and over again, that living out the motto can change lives across generations and across the world.

PeaceTrees was founded in 1995 by a Gold Star mother and daughter whose son (and brother) was killed in the Vietnam-American war. The early vision for PeaceTrees was simple: bring war veterans and others together, from all sides of the conflict, on the land where they had been enemies. Bring them together to meet, reconcile, build relationships, and help heal land devastated by war. On that first trip to Vietnam, those pioneering citizen diplomats walked the land many had traveled years ago, met their war counterparts, and were transformed by their encounters with the “other fellow.” As a result of those first encounters, it was clear that reconciliation and friendship could heal past wounds. It was also clear that building on those reconciled relationships could change the future for people living in areas that were the most scarred by war.

PeaceTrees Vietnam today, 28 years after that first encounter, has stayed true to its initial vision. Its core work is sponsoring the clearance of explosive remnants of war in central Vietnam. It provides explosive ordnance risk education, primarily to children, to prevent accidents from the explosive ordnance left behind. Once land is safe, PeaceTrees supports community-led development projects that help address generational poverty rooted in the aftermath of war, including building homes, libraries, and kindergartens and planting trees. It sponsors scholarships for children impacted by an explosive ordnance accident or living with a disability. Today the PeaceTrees legacy includes more than 3,000 acres of land cleared; more than 100,000 unexploded ordnance cleared; 44,000 trees planted; 100 family homes, 12 libraries, and 22 kindergartens built. Beyond that, deep relationships have been built with families, communities, and local governments—including the U.S. Department of State and the central government of Vietnam.

The inspiration for this transformation continues to be so simple, and is the essence of the motto we share: bring people together—to meet the “other fellow.” Carolyn and I have been involved with PeaceTrees from the early years. We have traveled twice to Vietnam as citizen diplomats with PeaceTrees and found the “other fellow” in mothers whose sons died in conflict, in children at kindergartens built on reborn land. We have been welcomed into remote villages and been graced with generous hospitality. More than anything, our own lives have changed—troubled waters have been calmed and we have witnessed gleams of hope and joy in the lives of these “other fellows,” these other people, who were once strangers and are now our friends.


Photos in this article are from Bill and Carolyn’s trips to Vietnam in support of their work with PeaceTrees. Below, Carolyn reacts with joy and enthusiasm at the Grace Church Kindergarten, which was built and then sponsored with ongoing support from Bill & Carolyn’s church in Bainbridge, WA. The kindergarten is in a small, rural village not far from Khe Sanh, Vietnam. Says Carolyn, “It was a joy to visit on our citizen diplomacy trips.”

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