A little babysitter, Hoify village, Laos
Do you know which is the most heavily-bombed country in the world?
Green Buddha, Wat Mai. Luang Prabang
The first time I heard this question, it was the lead-in for an upcoming report on BBC News, and of course I assumed it was probably Iraq, or one of the troubled Balkan states, or any of a number of conflict-ridden African nations, or maybe a former SSR. Then the announcer came back, saying, "Now a report from the most heavily-bombed country in the world: Laos." For a second, I couldn't believe it. Laos? When were they ever in a war? Then my heart sank as I realized it probably had something to do with our involvement in that neighborhood during the Vietnam War. Yup, that was right...
In what is called "the Secret War," the US bombed Laos (whose official name now is "Lao PDR") day and night, 7 days a week, for 8 years. An estimated 30% of the bombs did not go off when they were dropped. In some cases the fuses jammed, sometimes the bombs fell into soft ground and were swallowed up, still live, deep below the surface.
All types of bombs were dropped, from huge, 3000-pound bombs to smaller "big bombs" weighing 100s of pounds, to containers filled with cluster bombs, tiny bombs the size of a tennis ball or smaller, packed with explosives and pellets and having a killing radius of 30 meters. There were 670 cluster bombs, or "bombies" per container. It is these bombies that cause many of the injuries and deaths in Lao.
More than 20,000 people have been killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents since the war ended in 1974. The Project for Lao UXO Removal aims to raise money for the removal of all remaining UXO from Lao.
Who's behind "The Project for Lao UXO Removal"? That's me. I'm Andrea Ozment. I grew up in Central New York State (yay Norwich!), the oldest of 8 children, and when I was in high school and college I protested against the war in Vietnam. Little did I suspect that 40 years later I'd still be working to undo some of the effects of that conflict!
In the intervening decades I've raised two gorgeous, talented, and intelligent daughters, my major contribution to the world. I've worked as an editor of children's trade books at Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston, then I switched careers to become an advanced practice nurse, specializing in pediatric oncology. I worked at Children's Hospital in Boston, for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and then moved to working with high risk families in Dorchester, MA, doing home care and Early Intervention for mothers and children. I also volunteered in an orphanage in Kathmandu in 2003, teaching English, playing games, and introducing the children to Halloween and Thanksgiving traditions. (They enjoyed it but were also baffled...) Now I'm a freelance writer, and with Master's degrees in English literature and in nursing, I'm keen to use any skills I have to help remove the lingering effects of my country's actions in Lao. I live in New Haven, CT, now, and when I'm not working on the Project for Lao UXO Removal, I'm traveling, reading, taking photos, and attending as many Scottish football games as I can!
SELLING COFFEE FOR THE CAUSE
Like every American I've spoken to about this situation, I want to do whatever I can to make Lao a safer place to live and grow up. One of the things I've decided to do to raise the money needed to clear the UXO from Lao is sell coffee. Go to the page Coffee for a Cause to see all about the delicious Laotian coffee beans for sale on this website! Also, check out this link to find out how good coffee is for you: http://www.medscape.com/features/slideshow/coffee?src=ptalk, and then read this article from Time magazine about coffee in Lao: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2091782,00.html?artId=2091782?cont?chn=world. The coffee I sell is from Steve Feldschneider's Lao Mountain Coffee. His workplace is down a little winding tree-lined street in the heart of Vientiane, and it's well worth the effort to find it for the aromas alone! Steve knows everything about coffee, including which blends are most likely to appeal to the American palate. Needless to say, I've taken his advice gratefully. See for yourself by ordering some wonderful Lao Mountain Coffee!
Many other groups are grappling with the impact of UXO in Lao:
The Mines Advisory Group is an international organization working in Lao to locate and destroy UXO. http://www.maginternational.org/where-we-work/where-mag-works/lao-pdr-/
The COPE Centre, headquartered in Vientiane, fits victims with prosthetic limbs and offers occupational and physical therapy, among other services. http://www.copelaos.org/
We Help War Victims, founded by Jim Harris, offers communities in Lao support on every level, from clearing UXO to providing books for children. http://www.wehelpwarvictims.org/
Legacies of War is an organization working to raise awareness in the US about the Secret War, and was integral in getting the US Congress to increase funding for UXO removal in Lao. http://legaciesofwar.org/
Article 22 has a program called "Buy Back the Bombs," selling bracelets and ornaments made from scrap metal from safely detonated UXO. http://www.peace-bomb.com/peacebomb/peace-bomb.html