Tuesday, 2 April 2013

... Indochina: Turning Darkness Into Light

Today I bought a leg. 

That's right, a leg. For less than the price of a monthly one-zone bus pass back in Vancouver. 


So that someone might have the chance to walk, an activity that you and I possibly don't even give second thought to. I didn't really. Until today.

Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) in Vientiane, is an inspiring non-profit organisation working with the Centre of Medical Rehabilitation (CMR), the Laos Ministry of Health and 4 provincial rehabilitation centres dedicated to supporting Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) survivors and other people with disabilities across the country. Together COPE and CMR are currently the only provider of prosthetic, orthotic and rehabilitation services in Laos. Founded in 1997 it has since developed its services from supplying prosthetics and orthotics to UXO survivors to providing physiotherapy, occupational therapy and paediatric services to other people with disabilities. Its Visitor Centre was established in 2008 and provides a free permanent exhibition providing education on UXO in Laos, and information on the comprehensive rehabilitation services that are on offer.

This is not a feel-good experience. It's not meant to be. As you walk up to the entrance the COPE sign is made from prostheses and there is interesting metal sculpture made by a local artist. You are told that it is made from 500kg of UXO, including cluster bombs in memory of those who have been injured, lost their lives or loved ones as a result of UXO. 

The Centre is fascinating and gives a very informative overview about the damage the UXO's have done and are still doing in Laos, in relation to the Secret War. The guides speak excellent English and you can take a free tour around the Centre with one of them should you choose. 

This experience will present you with an incredibly thorough and thought-provoking insight into what was left after the fighting stopped. Many people in Laos fall victim to UXO as they are involved in the scrap metal trade, and a small amount of UXO can have a high scrap value. Some scrap collectors can earn 4 times an average monthly salary, which to you and I would be nothing. 

The pictures you see, the information you read and the films you can watch I found very moving. Goddamn it! I'm supposed to be British and all devoid of emotion! All teasing aside, it will move you, for better or for worse.

A family's little boy died because of UXO. He and his two friends had found some in a pile collected by scrap metal collectors. One or both of the two friends hit two together like two kids "dobbing off" at a game of marbles would. They died instantly. According to the little boy's dad, his guts were hanging out. They took him to several hospitals. No oxygen. No blood. So they brought him back home. He asked for water to which his mother had to say no. He died at home. He was 8 years old. 

Yet within this sadness there is hope. The Centre also explains the incredibly valuable work carried out to clear the mines and also to rehabilitate Lao people who have lost limbs to the bombs, or for other reasons. There are many people who have benefitted from COPE's ongoing efforts to provide rehabilitation sevices. Several stories seen in the Centre can also be found at the website. The positive aspects of COPE's work are rightly celebrated.

The gift shop proceeds all go to helping support this wonderful organization's work. There's also the outdoor Karma café where you can enjoy a homemade ice cream and sit & reflect on what you have just seen. 

For some extra reading head to both COPE and The Monitor websites. 

Today I bought a survivor a leg.

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