In the lush landscapes of Nahom village, nestled in Khammouane province, Laos, a remarkable story of strength and perseverance unfolds. Meet Mrs On, a 52-year-old farmer who has endured the lasting impact of the Second Indochina War. Her journey sheds light on the struggles faced by families like hers, who continue to grapple with the presence of unexploded bombs on a daily basis.
A childhood marred by conflict:
Mrs On vividly remembers her childhood, etched with memories of the war. The haunting sound of planes flying overhead forced her family and fellow villagers to seek refuge in the safety of caves. For nine long years, they lived in the shadows, relying on aid provided by the Vietnamese army. However, food shortages eventually forced them to leave the safety of the caves, exposing them to the constant threat of bomb raids. "I was terrified!" she recalls.
Returning home to a harsh reality:
When the war finally ended, Mrs On's family returned to their village, only to be greeted by a devastating sight. “We were shocked seeing our home filled with unexploded bombs and bomb craters everywhere. Many families, including mine, went to other villages as they were unable to rebuild their homes in the craters,” she shares. Forced to relocate, Mrs On and her husband settled in Nahom village, where they hoped for a safer future.
The lingering impact of unexploded ordnance:
Even in their new home, the threat of unexploded bombs continued to cast a shadow over the family. Every year, as her husband tended to their farm, they would unearth about a dozen dangerous items. “We recognized it was dangerous for our lives, but we had no alternative but to dump the bombs into the bomb craters nearby when we discovered them,” Mrs On continued. Eventually, the presence of explosives led to the abandonment of one of their farms, reducing the amount they could cultivate, as well as their income. "I didn't want to risk my son and daughter's lives by removing them every year, like my husband had done previously."
Hope and transformation through mine action:
In 2021, MAG undertook a crucial clearance operation in Nahom village. Over 134,000 square meters were meticulously cleared, benefiting six households, including Mrs On's. Within the cleared areas, 38 dangerous items were safely detected and destroyed, ushering in a new chapter of safety and opportunity.
Reclaiming the land and rebuilding lives:
Following the successful clearance, Mrs On joyfully recalls the newfound freedom she felt being able to use all of her farmland once more. Last year, she harvested 33 bags of rice from her fields, while also reclaiming the previously abandoned land to cultivate cassava. The restored farmland brings hope for a sustainable income that will support herself and her family.
A legacy of resilience:
With immense pride, Mrs On passes on the safe farmland to her son, free from the fear of conflict or disruption. The transfer of this precious resource ensures the continuation of her family's agricultural legacy. The farmland now serves as a catalyst for economic growth, enabling her family to thrive and contribute to the community.
Mrs On's journey is just one example of the resilience of individuals and communities impacted by the aftermath of war. The reclamation of land not only restores a sense of safety but also provides a foundation for sustainable agriculture and economic prosperity in an area still recovering from conflict.
For more on our work in Laos, click below.