On the other side of the globe, innocent people are being maimed and killed because of a war waged by the U.S. decades ago. Tapai, a farmer in Savannakhet, Laos, was putting up fence posts on his land when he became the war’s latest casualty. His shovel struck a bomb dropped by an American plane during the Vietnam War. Shrapnel from the explosion tore off his fingers and embedded in his stomach and legs. Lacking the means to get treatment in a hospital, Tapai became permanently disabled.
He is one of more than 50,000 Laotians who have been injured or killed by the 270 million cluster bombs dropped on Laos by the U.S. as part of a top-secret campaign to cut off the supply lines of the North Vietnamese. The people of Laos were not at war with the U.S., but they have been paying the price for more than 50 years.
Ten people, including eight children, live under Tapai’s his roof. He still carries the memories of the accident and the shrapnel in his body. Due to the loss of his fingers, he’s no longer able to carry heavy loads.
But he must carry on, for himself and his family. So Tapai works the earth tirelessly, growing rice and vegetables. However, he and his family were barely getting by until they met Handicap International. In addition to clearing explosive remnants of war in Laos, the organization helps people with disabilities to generate income for their families.
Tapai asked Handicap International for goats so he could breed and sell them. “It was a joy when they arrived four months ago,” says Tapia. “I signed a contract and was given two female goats and a little money for the initial costs. For my part, I made a commitment to take good care of them so that they have kids, which would mean I could manage a small flock of goats and sell them when necessary. And you know what? One of the goats is already pregnant.”
The family now has more hope for the future, but Tapai still worries about other hidden explosives around his village. “There are still many explosives in the ground, including on my farm,” says Tapai. “I’m afraid for my children. I’ve told them not to touch anything suspicious, but they are very curious.”
Since 2006, Handicap International deminers have cleared explosives from more than 26 million square feet of land surrounding 121 villages in Laos. Tapai’s village was recently added to Handicap International’s list of areas to be demined. Deminers have already marked dangerous areas around the village to help people avoid accidents in the meantime.