Laos: Empowering bomb survivors with disabilities

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Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. dropped millions of bombs on Laos as part of secret campaign to cut off North Vietnamese supply routes through the country. Today, Laotians like Nang, a mother of five, are still being injured and killed by explosive remnants of war. Handicap International helps victims to regain their economic independence. In 2015, the organization gave Nang two goats so she could start a breeding business.

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In Tam Luang village, Laos, Nang Kleu sits outside at her loom weaving a brightly colored “sinh,” a traditional Laotian skirt, while her children run and play around her. Five years ago, she was also weaving with her six-month-old baby wrapped onto her back, when her teenage son and his friends returned to the village from the forest with a discovery.

They had found a decades-old mortar that had been dropped during the Vietnam War and were excited to break it apart and sell it the scrap metal. Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. dropped millions of bombs on Laos as part of secret campaign to cut off North Vietnamese supply routes through the country. Realizing the potential danger, Nang rose from her loom to warn the boys, but was too late. One of the boys brought a hammer down on the mortar and it exploded, killing three of them instantly. A fourth was taken to the hospital, but did not survive.

“I can walk, but it is painful,” she says. Handicap International, which has been supporting victims of explosive remnants of war in Laos since 1996, found Nang several years after the accident and offered to help her travel to the city for medical care. However, Nang refused, fearing her leg would be amputated. “If I go, they will cut my foot off and my husband will leave me, ” says Nang. She says the last part with a smile, but there is truth behind her statement: People with disabilities are often seen as being “useless” in a society where most people earn their living through farming and other manual labor.

To help combat this stigma and enable people with disabilities to support their families, Handicap International has assisted victims of explosives like Nang to start small income-generating businesses. In October 2015, the organization provided Nang with two female goats so she could breed them and sell the babies for profit. Both goats are now pregnant.

Nang estimates that the sale of two baby goats will provide two months’ worth of rice to feed her family and allow her to purchase school uniforms and books for her five children. She might even have money leftover to put into savings.

“I am so happy to have help from Handicap International,” says Nang with a joyful smile. “So, so happy.”