Did you know that Laos is the most heavily bombed place on the planet? I certainly didn’t and learning about the problem of UXO’s (unexploded ordnances) here has been absolutely staggering for both Jane and myself.
The Ho Chi Minh trail passes right through Laos and was the supply route of the Viet Cong. There was a lot of traffic on this trail to Vietnam through the heart of Laos. The Americans staged a secret war here that much of the world was unaware of for a very long. There were over half a million B52 bombing missions in 9 years. Of the approximately 270 million bombs that were dropped here by the Americans about 30% or 80 million unexploded bombs are still left. Yes, the stats are just staggering…and this legacy of the Vietnam War has left a terrible scar on this land and a population that has to deal with consequences.
We visited the Co-operative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) yesterday but decided to come back and spend another morning watching the DVDs, chatting to the staff, and looking more closely at the exhibition so we could learn a bit more about an issue that we felt quite ignorant about.
We met with Kerryn Clark, the Advocacy & Public Relations Mentor at the centre. She is an Australian who is skilled in the area of social campaigning and is employed here to promote the work of the centre and set up referral networks that will enable more people to benefit by the work done here by experts skilled in the field of fitting and making prosthetics.
It was amazing to sit and listen to her talk about the work of the centre and her contribution here. We realised that she was absolutely passionate about the work she was engaged in and so glad to be working in an area where she could really make a difference. We were thankful of the time she spent with us and of the opportunity to meet another person who appeared to have found her true calling.
Check out their website if you wish and the tragic and yet inspiring stories of some of the people in Laos who have been maimed by a UXO and then been helped by the work done here. Their courage is astounding.
The whole experience was moving for both of us and especially Jane who is a qualified physio. She realised there was an opportunity here for her in the future to really do something meaningful with her skills if she decided on coming back to Laos.
The biggest problem in dealing with the consequences of these unexploded bombs is that scrap metal is big business in Laos. Children and adults alike harvest the bombs in a similar fashion to foraging for food in the forest because of their economic situation and the money they are able to get by selling the metal. Much of this metal is recycled in Laos and used for making many appliances. Unfortunately, hundreds of people are maimed each year in the process.
It had truly been an enlightening and educational visit and made us think about the legacy of war and how a country that had no involvement in the conflict is now left to deal with the consequences of it and work through the clean up that will take decades to sort through.
“It is only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it were the only one we had”.