A Little More Laos… C.O.P.E.

As I mentioned on Learning Thai, our family spent an educational morning at the C.O.P.E  center in Vientiane. (COPE stands for Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise. Founded in 1997). It’s hard to even put into words the way I felt as we read the displays, pictures, and stories of victims of UXO (unexploded ordinance). It was heartbreaking.  One story hit home particularly hard because it was from 2012, and about children…

 According to the Mines Victim and Clearance Trust…”“The bomb was buried in the ground where the woman and six children were burning wood, so when it heated up it exploded, killing and injuring these poor children and the woman,” UXO Lao provincial coordinator Mr Soubinh Phasouking told Vientiane Times on Friday.
Three of the children died instantly from shrapnel wounds and another died later in hospital due to the extent of his injuries. The three survivors suffered serious burns to their legs, and risk infection. However, they were very lucky that the blast characteristics meant they suffered no upper body injuries.
Of the four children who died, three were boys – Sack aged 12, Chith aged 10, and Touk aged 10. A little girl named Ser, aged 3, was also killed.

This was a hard thing to expose our children too. We did not watch the documentaries because we felt it might be too graphic and tried to help the kids see the positive side…that victims are receiving help and rehabilitation through COPE. We saw several amputees on the grounds, so the kids could see “real people” who are affected.

It was sad to hear how many people die or are injured in Laos while doing ordinary things like plowing rice fields, making fires, or collecting scrap metal. Children in Laos buy cheap metal detectors and go looking for scrap to sell. The bombies look just like a ball, so it’s easy to see why children are tempted to pick them up. Makes my heart hurt.

This is a U.S.  war strategy map showing bombing targets in Laos.  “The UXO issue is a legacy that was left out of U.S.history books and one that most Americans and many Lao Americans are unaware of. During the Vietnam War era from 1964 to 1973, unauthorized by Congress, the U.S. “Secret War” began a bombing campaign that was equivalent to one planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, across Laos;  a country the size of Minnesota. Over a third ofLaos’ land is still plagued with bombs, making it the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. An estimated 20,000 people have been killed or maimed in Laos by UXOs since the war ended over 40 years ago, with the majority of them are children. “(from an article on Hilary Clinton’s historic visit to Vientiane and the COPE center earlier this year).

Love the creativity here- these are homemade legs that people have traded in at C.O.P.E. for brand new prosthetics.

Eliza uses her imagination to picture life without a limb. The kids were touched- they were moved to pray and to give money. I think we all felt a little helpless but were glad to see that this great need is being addressed at COPE.  Here is a good and recent article which sums up the problem better than I did from IRIN News, “Deadly Cost of Unexploded Cluster Munitions.”

Please pray for the people of Laos…that the international community and especially the U.S., who is responsible, will ban future production and use of cluster bombs (the U.S continues to defend their right to use them and has recently in Afghanastan and Iraq), and continue to give financial aid and  help with the clean-up. One article  (from 2010) that I read said:

So far, the US has contributed an average of about $3m a year to bomb removal efforts in Laos. In contrast, the US spent more than $2m a day (about $17m in today’s dollars) for nine years dropping the bombs in the first place. The US can, and should, do more.

Later that day, we were able to hear a personal story from Pon’s dad who lived in Luang Prabang during the war. His village was heavily bombed, many people died and the entire village was evacuated. He witnessed the war first hand and it’s a terrible thing that the repercussions are still being felt in August of 2012.

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