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Our final days in Laos...

Vientiane and the inspiring COPE project

Our last few days in Laos were spent in the capital city of Vientienne. Although lacking the charm of Luang Prabang it definitely feels more like a city than a town.

Throughout our time in Laos we had been amazed by its history and the problems still faced today from the unexploded bombies. We had heard from other travellers that visiting the COPE centre, which works to provide artificial limbs, support and rehabilitation to those who need it, was a must when in Vientiane and we were interested to find out more.

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We decided to walk there so we could take in some of the sights of the city along the way including the presidents office and Laos replica of the Arc de Triomphe, Patuxi.

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We did get a little bit confused where we should go and started to debate whether we should have just got a taxi as we couldn't see signs for the center even though we were on the road it should have been on.

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We decided to keep going and soon came across the hospital. It turned out that the COPE visitor center was located in here which shouldn't really have been a surprise as this it would make sense for them to be located where they have the facilities required. It would have been a handy heads up in terms of directions we had been given.

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The visitor centre has a great free exhibition which explains about the UXO problem and the work being done to help victims.

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Did you know that just one bomb case can hold up to 680 individual bombies, that can cover the same area as 3 football pitches and each one has a killing radius of 30m!

Some of the figures involved are insane and it is no wonder there is still a problem today.

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It is not just bombies that are a problem as we found out from the huge fieldworkers manual that is used when they have to do clearance of UXOs covering anything from grenades to landmines.

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A quarter of incidences with UXOs are due to people looking for scrap metal. Even though this is illegal and carries a huge risk to their lives the 1000-2000 kip per kilo of scrap metal is enough for people incentive to try. We watched a harrowing video interview of a mother and father who had lost their 12 yr old son when a bombie exploded. He and his friends had followed some older boys who were collecting scrap metal, they had put aside some bombies and moved on but the younger boys did not realise the danger and one of them picked one up. The result was devastating and I could not hold back my tears as the mother relived the desperate attempt to save her sons life. In a back of a truck they had to drive to not one but two hospitals, only to be turned away by both as there was no blood or oxygen! The next hospital was too far away and the truck driver was superstitious about the boy dying in his truck. All they could do was go back home and try to comfort their son as best as they could as he died.

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We take it for granted that if we get injured that we can go to a hospital and that they will at least have the basics of oxygen and blood. Having been to Savannakhet where the family was from we knew the areas they were talking about and just how far they had had to travel on bumpy roads. I can not imagine how helpless they must have felt not being able to save their son.

Many people are either too far away from help, can not afford the transport to get to it or even are not aware that there is any help out there. This is where COPE comes in. They are able to help cover the costs of surgery and treatment for those who can not afford to pay. They also offer free transport so that people in remote areas are able to access the help that they need. By sending people out to the villages they are spreading information about the help available as well as being told about and finding people who need help and this is not just limited to bombie victims. Many people have been surviving for years isolated with makeshift limbs.

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They also provide training for local people in occupational therapy and fitting and making artificial limbs . Having grown up seeing people suffering, not being able to work and live a full life due to their injuries the trainees are very proud of their new skills and to be able to help others. Such a worthwhile career choice! It was amazing to see the process of how artificial limbs are made and all the different types of aids made to help people do everyday tasks we take for granted.

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It was a very inspiring and humbling part of our trip and made us realise just how lucky we are to be living in a country that has not been ravaged by war in our lifetime or had cluster bombs used on it to make it dangerous today.

You can find out more on the great work COPE do here www.copelaos.org It is also possible to make donations here too if you would like, so go on buy a leg!

After visiting the center we went to the Laos National Museum.

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What looked impressive from the outside turned out to be quite dilapidated on the inside and at points were weren't sure we wouldn't fall through the creaky floorboards! Some parts were quite interesting though including info on an dig that had found a burial pot that would have been used for a baby. All the tiny ankle and wrist bracelets and beads were still intact and they are not sure if it was used as a sign of wealth of the family or a sign of their mourning. One of the most impressive things at the museum was actually outside, a huge piece of carved hardwood depicting Laos culture, history and nature.

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Oh dear!
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There not much else to report on our time in Vientiene as it rained and there was lots of planning for our next adventure in Thailand. We could not leave without making sure we had Laos food for dinner one last time so went to a local restaurant where we were recommended the grilled fish, Tom Yam soup and of course Dans favourite sticky rice. We tucked in and soon realised we had forgotten to say not spicy! The soup was one of the hottest things we have had and the only way to recover was to go to the ice cream parlour for some desert! Unfortunately I ended up being ill all night (some might argue too much ice cream but I think it definitely was the Tom yam soup!) Knowing we had a flight to catch in the morning this wasn't the best ending to our time here!

Bye Laos! It's been awesome and we ll definitely be back one day!

Sx

Posted by doyledan 21:54 Archived in Laos

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