On Saturday, Madame Xuyen and I visited the COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) National Rehabilitation Center. COPE is an amazing center that provides prosthetics and mobility devices for people who require them–free of charge if they cannot afford to pay for them. They also work to promote awareness of the unexploded ordnances that are scattered around Lao PDR from the Vietnam war. UXOs are ‘explosive weapons that failed to detonate when they were fired, dropped, launched or projected, and still pose a risk of exploding’.
These UXOs pose a serious threat to those living in the country side. People living in remote villages often look for these bombs and scraps of metal to sell for good money. This, however, can be extremely dangerous because while digging for the harmless scraps of metal, it is not uncommon for them to come across an UXO. There are an estimated 80 million of sub-munitions that failed to explode after the Vietnam War and an estimated 50,000 people have been injured or killed as a result of UXO accidents between 1964 and 2010. The human cost of UXO incidents in Laos is ongoing, and requires immediate actions to ban future use of cluster bombs and to provide resources to rehabilitate the affected people and land. The COPE center in Vientiane has a great exhibit that is filled with informative displays and documentaries that help to educate visitors from all around the world.
After touring COPE, we visited the National Rehabilitation Center, a center for the blind, and deaf, or those who have lost a limb. We spent time with some of the disabled children and adults and sang songs, played games, and made different crafts such as door mats made of cloth. This has probably been my favorite experience yet; it was so humbling to spend time with these people who live without things that I mistakenly take for granted everyday..It was especially inspirational to see a lot of people who previously lived ‘normal’ lives, but had some sort of accident that caused their lives to dramatically change forever, come out of their rooms and joyfully participate in these activities with a smile on their face. It was amazing to see how such a simple task of visiting them could brighten not only their day, but also mine, so much. They laughed as I attempted to sing and speak in Lao for them, and we had a great afternoon filled with lots of laughs and story telling.