Laos: Young Students Travel to USA to Educate the Public

Hut in a paddy field Two young Laotians are touring the USA in order to educate the public about the thousands of unexploded bombs which litter the country. During the Vietnam war the US dropped over 2 million bombs on Laos during a nine year period between 1964 to 1973. This series of events is said to be due to Lao’s location within the Vietcong supply line known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Laos is now famous for being the most bombed country in existence.

The Laotian duo Thoummy Silamphan, 26, who lost a limb to unexploded ordinance, and Manixia Thor, a 25-year-old leader of a female bomb clearance team, joined Washington-based nongovernmental organization Legacies of War on its “Voices of Laos” tour across a dozen cities.

Laotians have spent considerable efforts trying to help survivors of UXO explosions. The Cope Center, situated in Vientiane, supports victims and their families by equipping them with prosthetic limbs. Yet although this aid is present, the country needs support from larger nations if it is to deal with the issue in a fast, safe, and efficient manner.

Experts assume that more the 30% of the ordinance dropped on the country failed to detonate, leaving vast areas of the country treacherous to all who live or visit there. The north and the eastern Vietnamese border are the areas most affected, creating hundreds of annual injuries.

“To this day there are 600 living survivors of UXO explosions and many of them are children, Thoummy told RFA’s Lao Service in an interview last week. “Of the 600 survivors, less than 100 have received any aid and are in desperate need of it,” he said.

The tour around the US has been dubbed ‘ Voices of Laos,’  and began in New York on April 3 when the United Nations marked the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.

Funded by the U.S. State Department, the trip has taken the two young Lao speakers through California, Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota, and culminates in the U.S. capital on April 30—the anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.

The ultimate purpose of the tour is to raise awareness about the issue, giving lectures and holding discussions about how Laotians lives have been affected. The true source of inspiration for the young travelling Laotians stems from Thoummy’s  realization that he is lucky to have been one of the very few to receive aid. His desire to attain an equal amount of attention for his country men is what has brought him overseas. “I would like Americans to be aware of the UXO problems in Laos and help us out,” he told RFA.

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