The Liberty Gazette
April 24, 2018Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
We had arrived in Luang Prabang on one of Lao Airlines’ turboprops, an ATR-72, and departed for the country’s administrative capital, Vientiane, on an Airbus A-320.
Vientiane has much to offer. We had too little time to take in everything. The city is busy as one would expect, with heavy traffic, but also great coffee shops, and a mix of old and new architecture. As we did in Cambodia, we stayed in a traditional wood house. We had asked around, what kind of wood is this? Mahogany? Rosewood? People replied, “Something like that,” but no one recalled the names of the rich native timber used for building houses that last over a hundred years. So we looked them up: sokrom, kokoh, koki, sroloas and beng. The trees are lovely. The landscape is stunning. It’s a beautiful place to have a war.
Here, recovery is still a current event. We are drawn to how healing comes. Throughout much of Cambodia we learned the vital role of art in helping generations deal with genocide. In Vientiane, we discovered the hope that comes from C.O.P.E.—Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, dedicated to helping people move on. This locally run non-profit works with partners to provide rehabilitation service for Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) survivors across Laos. They make prosthetic legs and custom-fit arms and hands.
UXOs still litter the countryside as a result of U.S. and Laotian bombing to rid the world of the evil Pathet Lao. This year, hundreds more Laotians will be killed or injured by UXOs left behind forty years ago. Most are farmers plowing and children playing. They live in rural areas without emergency care. Funding from countries and companies throughout the world, including the United States, covers the cost of travel, accommodation, and treatment for all patients who come to any of C.O.P.E.’s five rehab centers.
In the visitor center and museum we learned their perspective of the history of bombings and resulting disabilities. We walked through a mock-up of a typical family’s house, with pictures on the walls and all the comforts of home, except this mock-up also included all the dangers of a home in this area. We read the stories of survivors and the stories they told of those who didn’t survive. In a tape-recorded interview, a kindergarten teacher recounted losing one of her students who was playing in the dirt and dug out a UXO. She couldn’t stop him in time. A film documentary introduced us to one of the thousands of people born long after the war, caught in crossfire that lay dormant for decades—a young farmer now surviving without arms.
C.O.P.E. is one of the most highly rated attractions in Vientiane, with five stars on every travel site. Each star given speaks to the preciousness of life.
Ten to thirty percent of the two million tons of bombs dropped on Laos did not explode. Teams from several organizations are moving through the country, finding and detonating them. But for those innocent victims, there’s C.O.P.E.