|An exhibit of cluster bombs at the Cope Center|
After spending a week falling in love with Laos, it was sobering to spend our final morning at the Cope Center in Vientiane.
Laos is the most bomb-covered country in the world; much of this stems from the Vietnam War and the related Secret War in Laos. The U.S. flew more than 580,000 bombing missions over Laos between 1964 and 1973, dropping millions of tons of bombs onto the country to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos into South Vietnam. For eleven years people lived in fear of bombs. I can't even imagine such a scary existence.
But the nightmare continues because thirty percent of the bombs, about 80 million, didn't explode, so they lie just underground in the streets, near schools, and close to houses. Scrap metal is a huge moneymaker in Laos. Kids often find these bombs, and during their attempts to bring them home the bombs explode either killing or maiming them. The Cope Center is doing great work to help those who are injured to receive treatment and needed prosthetics. There are nonprofits helping to destroy the bombs, but so many people are still dying each year.
We watched a riveting documentary called "Bomb Harvest." A young boy in the documentary lost his best friend to an explosion and said it best, "These bombies (as called by the locals) are not ours, and we don't want them here. Please come back and get them."