Chelsea Fernandes, a South Hadley High School senior and daughter of MHC staff members Linda and Michael Fernandes, has reached her goal and raised the $20,000 that was necessary to adopt and train a mine-detecting dog that is named "South Hadley." The dog, once trained, will work in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Chelsea is working with the Marshall Legacy Institute in Virginia, which sponsors the Children Against Mines program, also known as CHAMPS. The program exists to educate children about the threat of land mines and helps them to raise money to "adopt" or support a mine-detecting dog.
Chelsea spent the last year raising the necessary funds and accomplished her goal through various fundraisers. Since the campaign began, she has written letters to members of the Mount Holyoke community, had a three-mile walkathon that involved the children of Mosier School, written 120 letters to celebrities requesting autographs for a silent auction, sold 5,000 raffle tickets, in which the first prize was $500, given a presentation to the South Hadley Lion's Club, solicited donations in a letter to the business community that was cowritten with State Representative John Scibak, had a car wash, and sold CHAMPS bracelets.
In July her hard work was rewarded. Chelsea traveled to Bosnia with the Marshall Legacy Institute on a donor appreciation trip. While in Bosnia she visited the Mine Detection Dog Center for Southeastern Europe in Konjic and was actually able to pick "South Hadley" from a group of dogs that were there to start their training. Upon meeting "South Hadley," Chelsea said, "When I saw him I knew he was the one. It was love at first sight." She also had the opportunity to meet with Bosnian school children and heard firsthand the challenges that present themselves when a country is riddled with landmines. At a dinner in Sarajevo Chelsea was presented an "award of recognition" by Her Excellency Dr. Bisera Turkovic, Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the United States of America, which acknowledged Bosnia and Herzegovina's "grateful appreciation of her continual support and extraordinary efforts in landmine eradication."
There are currently 800 dogs working in 29 countries around the world. The teams of dogs are able to search 1,500 square meters a day, far more than other methods of mine detection. During a dog's working life, usually six to eight years, they are able to search and clear over two million square meters of land.
Chelsea will continue her work with CHAMPS during her senior year. She will be traveling to Greenwich, Connecticut, in October to speak with the Rotary Club and also to meet with school children to discuss her fundraising effort. This has been a life-altering experience for her and it proves her theory that one person can make a difference.
A tax-deductible donation can still be sent to Peoples Savings Bank, 494 Newton Street, South Hadley, MA, 01075. Checks should be made out to "Marshall Legacy-South Hadley."