Most of you know the pitiable fact that there are still countless mines buried all over the world. But have you ever actually thought about doing something about it? This time, you won’t get us with an excuse of being too busy in your daily live. We’ll make it easy for you: How about contributing by simply purchasing a 300 Yen (2,50 US-Dollar or 1,80 Euro) sticker of activist group POM2? They are running the Mine-Remove Sticker Campaign and PingMag learned more about it from one POM2 founder, Kiyotaka Tanaka, a graduate student of Keio University’s Policy and Media Research Course.
Written by Ayana Watanabe
Translated by Junko
There are more than 100 million active antipersonnel land mines still buried in dozens of countries all around the world. More than 25,000 innocent people die or are seriously injured by mines each year, meaning an accident occurs on average every 20 minutes. These disturbing facts motivated students from Tokyo’s Keio University to found POM2, based on the idea of a “Problem Of Mines is Problem Of Mine.”
The Mine-Remove Sticker Campaign works quite simple: When you buy a sticker, 100 percent of its 300 Yen cost are donated to demining operations in Thailand. Though you can’t buy a lot with just 300 Yen in Japan, but this small amount pays for the inspection and cleaning of three square meters of a minefield. If you participate in this campaign and buy a sticker, you can log into POM2′s website and see exactly which area of a minefield your contribution helped clean up. This is done simply through a number printed on the sticker you bought, which you can track on an online map. Undoubtedly these details can help everyone approaching the problem in a less abstract way.
So, where would you start? You can purchase the stickers at certain events and shops, and online, of course. So far, about 5,000 people have bought a sticker, thus supporting the clean up of 10,000 square meters of land in Thailand!
POM2′s inaugural sticker design
The fifth sticker design with its slogan “Problem Of Mines is Problem Of Mine.”
Detailed view of the cleaning area.
Mine removal: This frightening red sign is a fact of life for people in the Thai countryside.
Kiyotaka Tanaka, first of all, how did it start?
Five years ago, I worked as intern for an NGO called Japan Alliance for Humanitarian Demining Support. While working in their Tokyo office, my supervisor strongly recommended that I visit a mine removal site at least once. I went to Thailand – and it was a really shocking experience. I thought I knew a lot about the land mine problem, but watching the removal process and seeing a bunch of disarmed mines laying around your feet is a lot different than just thinking about the issue in an abstract way. Thailand is just an 8-hour flight from Japan, but the reality of the situation there is something hard to imagine in Japan. I experienced the actual process of mine removal, and how they detonated mines to destroy them. I’d never heard such a terrible sound before! It must be incredibly stressful for people living in the area and I thought it had to be cleaned up as soon as possible. At that time I decided to do something about this problem.
And then you came back to Japan and established POM2?
I came home with a strong feeling of wanting to do something. But I found myself forgetting the problem since the summer break came to an end and I went back to my normal daily life. In a big city like Tokyo, it is easy to forget something because you are too busy having fun. At the same time, however, I was feeling guilty for doing nothing about the problem. When I was eating out with my friends one night, I thought, “If I don’t drink another glass of beer, I could send the money to Thailand instead and pay for the removal of a land mine.” I was fed up with having this guilty feeling and started POM2.
I see. So I guess, you were certainly aware that most Japanese seem to be indifferent of the land mine problem…
Yes, I was. When I went to bookstores to research the mine problem, I could only find picture books for people obsessed with weapons. I found out that there is very little access to information about this problem, even in Tokyo where you can get any kind of information… I didn’t think that volunteering to various groups would be practical because it would be difficult to keep doing it for a longer period. It also wasn’t possible to contribute a lot of money by myself, either. I decided to develop a way to contribute that would be practical not only for me…
… and started the Mine-Remove Sticker Campaign, balancing you between student life and demining activities. Did you come up with the concept and the whole system?
I created this system with help of my classmates. Since we were not the kind of people who are usually interested in doing volunteer work, lack of experience might have brought up this idea. I think we succeeded because we didn’t try to do huge stuff, only what we could do as students.
Why did you choose stickers as a way to raise the money?
First, we wondered what kind of stuff people would buy for 300 Yen. We realised that stickers could be put anywhere, they gather a lot of attention and can trigger a conversation… Like “What’s this?” “Guess what! I’m removing land mines in Thailand by buying this!” …something like this!
Absolutely. The first 5,000 stickers were designed by students. But we were lucky to get support from professional designers. The most important thing is to make people easily understand the problem, and we ask for designs that simply show the land mine removal.
The 6th version of the sticker designed by Power Graphixx. “I hope the stickers will help people think about the mine problem, ” says Mr. Hanzawa of Power Graphixx.
The 7th version designed by retired weapons. “Please put them on places that stand out!” says Mr. Ishikawa of retired weapons.
In the beginning, we were targeting mainly students. By now, people of all ages are buying our stickers. It is easier to sell them at events because we can actually talk to people face-to-face. We also appreciate it that many people in rural areas buy them online.
How are the profits of sticker sales sent to Thailand, and how can people check information on demining on your website?
In a three-month period, we were able to raise around 500,000 to 1,000,000 Yen (around 4,000 US-Dollar or 3,000 Euro and double the amount). We then send the profits to a mine removal group in Thailand named PRO. PRO sends us the data of the current removal situation via e-mail and we collate it with the map. This is tedious work, so we are right now looking for a better way to exchange information with the demining teams in real time.
Via e-mail? So there is lots of work to do for you…
Indeed. Moreover, some of our staff went to Thailand this year and found that even Thai students in urban areas don’t know much about the mine problem. So, we are hoping to run our campaign in Thailand as well. I also think that it is very important to provide people with accurate information! I’m a little worried that people don’t take it seriously because a “one-click support” might be too easy and convenient. I want people to know the facts and think about the problem!
What measures are Thai people taking?
Although government initiatives have done a lot, there aren’t many who even care about the problem.
Activist Kiyotaka Tanaka on the left, promoting his cause at an event.
We really hope you can run your sticker campaign in Thailand, too. Finally, please tell us about POM2′s future activities. I heard you got a job at an IT company?
It is said that it would take over 100 years to remove all mines currently planted in the earth. We want to speed this process up by expanding our campaign to more parts of the world. Then, we think this sticker system can be used for different purposes, such as reforestation. In the future, I hope to invent a fund-raising system that can be more integrated with IT. Currently, all of the staff at POM2 are students, and everyone will do his own thing after graduation.
Thank you, and good luck with your M.A. thesis, Kiyotaka Tanaka!
Now, do a little shopping and buy a Mine-Remove Sticker that would help cleaning 3 square meters of a minefield – just for 300 Yen. We’d appreciate that!
Also, as POM2 is always looking for new designers: Maybe you’d like to design the next sticker? Or maybe you’d like help programming a better way to exchange information with the demining teams in real time? Just a suggestion…