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April 4th: Lend your Leg

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Colombia is a blessed country full of nature and biodiversity. Unfortunately, the cowardice of war sometimes interrupts its pristine geography with destructive explosions, shattering legs, deforming faces and killing both military and civilians without discrimination. In the first three months of 2012, approximately 40 people have been victims of landmines in Colombia, from which 32 are children. The international community banned these types of ground bombs since 1977.

The United Nations has declared April 4 as the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action to fight back against these buried threats. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Colombian rockstar Juanes and many international celebrities have joined forces to call for a world free of landmines with the campaign "Lend your Leg" or "Remángate" in Spanish. This campaign was created by the Colombian nonprofit organization Arcángeles and is now a global movement.

PorColombia, a nonprofit organization that connects students and professionals with Colombian and Latino backgrounds in North America, joins this initiative against the use of landmines and makes a special call to the president Barack Obama and his administration to sign the Mine Ban treaty and lead the way on outlawing "the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of antipersonnel mines, and requires states to destroy their stockpiles within four years and to clear all mined areas within 10 years."

In addition, we have invited corporal Sixto Javier Pérez Mantilla as our guest of honor to our upcoming VI Colombian Student and Professional Conference hosted by Cornell University from April 13 to the 15. Corporal Pérez is a soldier in the Colombian army, and in February 20, 2010, he was severely injured by stepping on top of a landmine while patrolling the Colombian northeastern region of the Catatumbo. The severe wounds caused him the amputation of both legs, losing several fingers from his left hand and blunt muscular injuries on his torso.

Despite the horror, corporal Pérez is on his way to recovery. Thanks to the United for Colombia Foundation and the support of the Colombian Army, he is now having hand reconstructive surgery and prosthesis fittings at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. "At this moment, I am focused on getting better; at the clinic, they are reconstructing my left thumb, despite my initial skepticism. After several surgeries, I can see the progress now; the doctors are really fixing it! It is incredible," says corporal Pérez on a cellphone interview.

We hope that his testimony at the conference underlines the lethal effects of landmines. Moreover, we want him to show us how his love for life overshadows the gruesome scars left by a six-decade war. In Colombia, we have had 9,704 landmine victims since 1990 until February 2012. Worldwide, there are 79 countries with landmine problems and unexploited ordinance, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor.

Besides questioning corporal Pérez about his recovery, we also asked him to share any details about the day his accident. He took a deep breath over the phone and said: "I don't like to talk about what happened that day. However, you know what? I'll tell you all about it at the conference."

To learn more the "Lend Your Leg" campaign, visit www.lendyourleg.org.

Carlos Macías is the national president of PorColombia. To learn more, visit
www.PorColombia.net or follow @PorColombia.