Travel is enlightenment and sobering. One of the many ‘things-to-do’ in Vientiane, the capital of Laos (Northern neighbour of Thailand) is to visit the COPE.
An acronym for Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, it is a charity funded majorly by the US government, to support treatment and rehabilitation of local victims of unexploded landmines left over from the Vietnam War.
This was one of the most sombre moments of travel I have ever experienced (aside from learning about the killing fields of Cambodia, during a touristy visit).
Before my sis and I walked in, neither of us had any clue about what we were about to learn that day:
- US vs Vietnam war was 1964 to 1973
- Millions of bombs were dropped across nearby Laos (reportedly it started as a way to empty the fighter planes of un-used cargo on their way to the carrier ships out at sea)
- This not only destroyed many villages, they killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of Laotians
- Worst part is that an estimate third of the explosive devices that landed did NOT explode!
- It is now reported to be the most bombed country in the world because of a war that it wasn’t a part of
- 50 years later, US has spent millions to support destruction of the evil left behind without much success
- Laos has expansive land that is uninhabitable, its coverage unclear since devices have exploded in locations far and wide
- Each month there are new casualties of death or disability in both adults and children, in the process of survival or livelihood e.g. farming, cooking using firewood or out in the field, etc.
This was sobering, traumatising and a moment of reflection on the challenges faced by the population on a daily basis.
Today, hope lives on through COPE and many other initiatives. They provide prosthesis to replace different limbs or parts of the entire body, to help injured victims, as well as vital mental & physical healing therapy to survive related trauma as individuals and families.
Please say a prayer for the Laotian people
And be grateful that your only fear walking out in any field near you may be to encounter a snake or rodent (from which you could escape), and not whether you’ll be killed or maimed by an unexploded device.