While in Vientienne, Laos, a fellow traveller recommended visiting a small museum called COPE. It ended up being an educational and emotional experience.
I learned how Laos is the most bombed country in history, due to the fact that the U.S. dropped bombs over Laos during the Vietnam war, either to cripple strategic routes of supplies into Vietnam or simply because the planes had to drop unused bombs so they could land safely.
Many of these bombs were faulty, and did not explode on impact. So of the 270 million bombs that were dropped, 30% did not explode. There are 80 million unexploded bombs (UXO for short) throughout Laos. As a result, Laotian people may come into contact with these bombs during their daily activities (like farming) and suffer injury or death. However, sometimes Laotians seek out these bombs purposely to sell the scrap metal, a form of income (it is illegal).
COPE helps the injured by creating low cost prosthetics, as well as rehabilitation. This organization plays a vital role to those being injured by UXOs to this day, decades after the Vietnam war. I cannot imagine the suffering of losing a limb or other permanent injuries. I'm also saddened that during the war, the USA would pour millions of dollars every day to drop bombs; but when it comes to recovery, they don't donate a few million dollars per year to an organization like COPE that is dealing with the aftermath of the Vietnam war. Perhaps it is silly of me to think of compassion as a part of war; if such compassion was a part of the process of war, then that society probably wouldn't go to war on the first place!
Below is an art piece made out of scrap metal from bombs.
A visual exhibit displaying how one big bomb houses many tiny cluster bombs.
People helped by COPE.
Low cost prosthetics.
For my UCSD Cognitive Science nerds: below is Ramachandran's mirror box! What this simple box does is it allows the patient to interact with the “phantom limb”. When a limb is suddenly lost, the brain may still register sensations for a limb that doesn't exist (e.g. one may feel an itch on his left arm even though he doesn't have one). The box below has a mirror, and it fools the brain to thinking that the left arm is there, allowing one to get the relief of scratching the invisible itch. It was great to see this invention being used at COPE to help patients.
A few weeks later, I happen to visit a similar organization in Cambodia, Land Mine Relief Fund. The man who started this organization, Aki Ra, is seen as hero. He took it upon himself after the war to begin the dangerous task of de-mining UXOs. He started this center to aid de-mining efforts on a larger scale, as well as adopt orphans who have been victims of UXO.
As I walked around the museum, it was uplifting to read stories written by the children on how they are grateful to be at this center, being given an education and a future. The children live in an area adjacent to the museum.
In front of the Cambodia Landmine Museum.
Below is self-explanatory.
After traveling through Vietnam, and then Laos and Cambodia, I kept learning about how the U.S. has caused so much suffering across these countries, and it's left up to the people of these countries to recover from the devastation. Today, many countries have signed a treaty promising not to use cluster bombs – the U.S. has not signed this treaty. It makes me wonder about what we will learn about the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – but surely, there will be suffering.
There are no clean wars, many innocent lives are always affected. From the optimistic perspective, I can hope that there are less wars, and less lives lost. But to the individuals that are affected, who are injured and permanently handicapped, or those who lose their lives – it's an injustice. If all of humanity could sincerely be sensitive to this injustice, there would no longer be wars.
Let us begin by sincerely wishing happiness for all people.