We’ve just concluded our trip through Laos, and we were blown away by this country, its food, and its people. If you’re planning a trip to SE Asia, I strongly urge you to make room in your itinerary for Laos. I promise you won’t regret it.
From the 4,000 river islands of the mighty Mekong to rugged mountains of the north, Laos (pronounced L-ow, as in “ow, that hurts”) boasts enormous caves, spectacular waterfalls, wide plains, and dense jungle. Its people are relaxed, friendly, and generous, and the food is a dynamite mix of local flavors and techniques with Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Hmong influences.
It also has the distinction of being the most bombed country per capita in the entire world.
Despite its neutrality as set forth in the Geneva Accords of 1954, Laos found itself at the epicenter of the so-called secret war between Vietnam and the U.S. The Vietnamese forces used Laos to traffic troops, munitions, and materials to the front lines. The U.S reacted as you might expect, and, from 1963 to 1974, dropped over 270 million cluster bombs – that’s about one bombing mission every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years.
An estimated 80 million of those bombs remained on the ground, UNEXPLODED.
Decades later, there is still UXO (unexploded ordnance) in every single province, and approximately 25% of Laos villages are contaminated. From 1964 to 2008, over 50,000 people were wounded or killed by UXO, with 40% of casualties in the last decade being children. Many of these children mistake the individual bomblets, or “bombies”, as toys or scrap metal that they hope to sell for pennies. It’s a tragedy of absolutely epic proportions.
The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) is working tirelessly to change all that. In addition to locating and clearing landmines and UXO in places like Laos, MAG also provides community outreach and education on the risks of UXO (particularly important due to the scrap metal trade) as well as training and employment for members of affected communities. You can read more about MAG and its impact here.
For those survivors that escaped UXO detonation with life but not limb, there’s COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise). We visited COPE’s Visitor Centre in Vientiane with no prior knowledge of their work, and we were seriously impressed.
Laos-based COPE, along with the government and other private sector partners, provides comprehensive rehab, including prosthetics and custom wheelchairs, for UXO survivors as well as other disabled people throughout the country. Learn more here. I hope you’ll consider supporting the life-changing work of these two very worthy organizations – whether it’s a personal donation, hosting a fundraiser, getting your church involved, or even just raising awareness on social media, it all counts and matters.
Peace, love, and happiness –
AUTHOR’S NOTE: All facts and figures courtesy of MAG.