Vientiane is the capital, and biggest city, in Laos. There is much to see and do here – such as checking out all the French style architecture (Arc de Triomphe, anyone?) – but what I want to talk about here is one place we visited, the COPE Centre.
COPE was formed in 1997 by the government and a group of non-Government organisations, in response to the need to help those affected by unexploded bombs, namely with orthotic and prosthetic devices.
Years on, COPE now stands as local not-for-profit organisation that works to provide access to both orthotic/prosthetic devices and rehabilitation services, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy and paediatric services to people with disabilities.
What you might not know is that Laos is, in fact, the most heavily bombed country in the world.
My guess, before visiting the centre, was that this title would have gone to a country in the Middle East, but I was very wrong.
I guess we just don’t hear about Laos in that light – and why would we – If you’re Australian, like me, we helped throw those bombs down on this beautiful country when we fought with America in the Vietnam War (Or as those in SE Asia refer to it as: The American War).
From COPE’s website:
It has been estimated that around 50 000 people have been injured or killed as a result of UXO incidents between 1964 and 2008. Roughly 30 000 of these incidents occurred during the time of the Second Indochina War/Vietnam War (up until 1973). The other 20 000 occurred in the post-conflict era (from 1973 to 2008). It is estimated that more than 50% of victims in the post-conflict era are children and over 80% of victims are male.
It is estimated that 260 million sub-munitions (bombies) from cluster bombs were dropped over Laos between 1964 and 1973. It is also estimated that 80 million of these did not explode when they were dropped.
Those numbers are scary, aren’t they?
I guess you could say we were all stunned, my Contiki group and I, when we realised these facts while at the centre.
Safe to say, it was a very sombre afternoon – a bit of a reality check on history – a history our own country was a part of.
At the centre we were lucky enough to be able to donate to COPE and the work they do. Together our Contiki group put in some money and ended up with a wonderful amount that we were able to give to this wonderful centre.
It was something small we could do to help with the atrocities of the past, I guess.
Visit www.copelaos.org for more information about the wonderful work COPE do.