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The fallout from a forgotten bomb

World Vision
23 February 2015 by Mark Nonkes
The fallout from a forgotten bomb

Bifao's father has struggled ever since an explosion caused him to lose his arm. Now he is dedicated to ensuring Bifao and her sister complete their education. Image by Mark Nonkes, World Vision

Bifao rushes home, darts up the stairs and grabs the watermelon hidden in the corner of the kitchen. This six-year-old wastes no time digging in. Soon, there’s watermelon juice dribbling down Bifao’s chin. By the time her brother finds her, a good chunk of the watermelon is already gone.

The three boys are back from the fields, where they’ve spent the morning hoeing and preparing the dry ground for the upcoming rice planting season. They look exhausted, dried sweat caked on their brow.

Bifao is still innocent. She smiles widely at them with a gap toothed grin. She’s in Grade 1 – home for lunch break. The hopeful world of opportunity is still ahead of her.

Her brothers don’t share the same expression. Just barely teenagers, they already wear hardened looks. Life has been unjust. It’s been that way since their father was 10 years old.

At that time, Ngor – the father – became one of the 20,000 people in Laos to survive the blast of a forgotten bomb.

Learning modern farming techniques through World Vision has helped Ngor to increase his family's rice production. Photo by Mark Nonkes, World Vision

Learning modern farming techniques through World Vision has helped Ngor to increase his family’s rice production. Photo by Mark Nonkes, World Vision

“I didn’t know it was a bomb. It was just as long as a pen, I could fit in my pocket. I took it to show my brother and friend. I just used it like a football and tried to bounce it. Then it exploded.”

The bomb Ngor found near his family’s rice field was one dropped during the Vietnam War. As many as two million tons of bombs were dropped over Laos from 1963 to 1975, although many did not explode upon landing. They lay in the grass or in the forest, waiting for a curious child.

“After the accident, I don’t remember anything. I don’t know how long I was laying on the ground. Eventually, I got up and walked to my neighbour’s house. When I looked down, I didn’t see my arm. Then I started to cry,” he says.

For the last four decades, the threat of the unexploded bombs has taunted villagers across the south-eastern stretch of Laos. Until two years ago, there were daily reports of explosions – with as many as one person dying everyday due to the ageing bombs.

As a result, farmers refused to expand their rice fields, worried about what they might find. Businesses steered clear of land suspected of being contaminated by unexploded bombs.

“These unexploded bombs have hindered Lao from developing economically,” says Vithit Chanthasiri, World Vision’s Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) and Livelihood Project Manager.

More than 30 years later, Ngor is trying the best of his lot. But the remnants of war have stolen so much.

“Everything is very hard for me. I can’t help my wife with some of the hard work in the rice field, I can’t help her during the rice planting,” Ngor says.

The family’s best hope lies in the fate of Ngor’s two youngest children, both girls, who are still in school thanks in part to World Vision sponsorship.

Can the girls make it? Can the family’s fate be rewritten?

The World Vision team working on the ground in Mahaxay, Laos sure hope so.

World Vision has worked with Mine Advisory Group International to clear unexploded bombs, with grant support from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In Ngor’s village, clearing officers removed four unexploded bombs in 2012, enabling farmers to have more access to land. The project also supported Ngor to access better rice seeds and to learn about modernized farming techniques – including using fertilizer and irrigation.

“In the last two years, we harvested between 80 to 100 sacks of rice,” Ngor says. It was the first time his family had enough rice to last them the entire year.

Ngor is holding on to hope. He looks at Bifao, who is now eating rice and dried meat.

“My dream is for them to complete their studies. I will do anything to support them,” Ngor says.

You can help families like Ngor’s in Laos by sponsoring a child today. 

Mark Nonkes Mark Nonkes

Mark is a Regional Communication Officer in the Asia Pacific for World Vision International.

 

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