When Josef Marschall, a Glenelg Country School freshman, outgrew the Children Against Mines program by graduating from the lower school, he decided to take his activism into his own hands.
The Westminster resident, who has been involved in the Marshall Legacy Institute’s program since third grade, spoke to the Sykesville-South Carroll Rotary Club at Integrace Fairhaven in Sykesville last week to share his new mission: an independent fundraising campaign for an MDD, or land mine detection dog.
“I don’t think people know the importance of mine detection dogs,” he told the Times this week. “The United States has banned land mines, but in other countries this is a very big threat and it hurts many communities.”
Land mines are small, usually round devices designed to injure or kill people by an explosive blast or flying fragments, according to MLI. And most are made of plastic — with about the same amount of metal as the spring in a ballpoint pen — which makes metal detectors almost useless.
And according to the United Nations, approximately 2,000 people are killed or injured by land mines every month. According to MLI, more than half of land mine casualties are civilians, and about 40 percent of civilian casualties are children.
“I feel that the mine detection dogs are the best way to solve this problem,” he told the Times. "The Marshall Legacy Institute, they have donated 251 of the mine detection dogs working in the world, and the dogs, they have cleared 49.3 million square meters of land.
“Also, none of the dogs have ever been killed or injured by a land mine,” Marschall added.
The MDDs train for one or two years to identify the smell of the explosives used in land mines, Josef’s father, John Marschall, explained, and are only allowed to go out searching for them when the weather is clear — in order to keep scents from wafting across large areas and leading them astray.
“They have to be 100 percent every time,” his father said, “so if the dog is off by a little bit that morning, they just take the dog back and train instead of going out into the field that particular day.”
It’s the dogs’ work that keeps Marschall’s interest.
“When I saw the mine detection dogs, I was really interested and I decided to sign up,” he said. “I was really intrigued. The stuff I was learning: how mines cause devastation to certain areas where farmers cannot tend to their crops, people cannot get water, children live in constant fear going to school.
“It really makes me want to advocate for the people in different countries who have to deal with this fear of land mines.”
But once a student leaves the GCS lower school, like Marschall did, they can no longer participate in CHAMPS — so this year he’s been embarking on his own path with the fundraiser.
Marschall has communicated via Skype with kids from Yemen and Bosnia and met the survivors of land mine injuries. And advocating for land mine removal has become a family affair. His younger brother joined CHAMPS and his family adopted a retired MDD, Nutmeg, in 2017.
“Josef’s engagement in CHAMPS through his school, Glenelg Country School, has been truly inspiring,” MLI Vice President of Operations Elise Becker told the Times Monday. “He has organized and participated in Glenelg fundraising campaigns, actively participated in CHAMPS club calls with students living in land mine-affected communities in Bosnia and Yemen, and has gained deep knowledge about the land mine problem and how mines negatively impact communities around the world.
“Josef, his family and Nutmeg accompanied MLI to several outreach events,” she continued. “Josef spoke eloquently at these events, about land mines and how dogs can help sniff them out.”
Anne Wooleyhand, head of the GCS lower school, said he has been the epitome of what CHAMPS aspires to achieve.
“He has been just a great ambassador for the Marshall Legacy Program,” she told the Times on Tuesday, “for making and effecting change. The goal of the CHAMPS program is to empower children to make a difference and to have the tools that they need to really have an impact.
“He's a child who started out in [third] grade, going to club meetings, now leading his own campaign and taking charge. He's making a difference, and his family has joined in with him, and they’ve had just such a huge impact on the students in our school and community.”
John Marschall said once Josef started working with MLI, it was “contagious.”
“You want to give back, do what you can do, find ways to spread the word and tell people there are a lot of great things students can do to help other countries — especially war-torn countries a lot of people in the states might not even know exist,” he said.
The institute recognized the Marschall family for its dedication at its Clearing the Path Gala in Washington, D.C. last October, for being “selflessly dedicated to helping others around the world through MLI’s Children Against Mines Program (CHAMPS).”
They also won the family award for CHAMPS and when GCS sponsored its next mine detection dog, they named it “Marschall.” MDD Marschall is currently in Iraqi-Kurdistan. He is a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois.
“He's currently working in Iraq to find land mines and booby traps left by ISIS,” John Marschall said.
Since November 2018, Josef Marschall has raised about $1,500 toward his $20,000 goal to sponsor a new MDD with a grant from GCS. He said he plans to hold various fundraisers — like bake sales and bingo games — to generate the funds.
The Sykesville-South Carroll Rotary Club donated $500 to the cause, and others can make donations through the MLI fundraising page, https://secure.qgiv.com/for/mli.
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Donors can select Josef’s project in the drop-down menu for specific dedications. Details about future fundraisers will be added as they become available.