Lao PDR

Laos: Clearing a safe path to education for girls and boys

Format
News and Press Release
Source
Posted
Originally published
Origin
View original

For 32 years, MAG has been driven by our vision of a safe future for everyone affected by violence, conflict and insecurity. MAG is taking this week to thank our supporters for helping us to reach more than 20 million women, men, girls, and boys in 70 countries across the world. The story below is from 2009.

In a narrow valley surrounded by high mountains in the Khammouane Province of Laos, children laugh as they play football at Phon Toum school.

Just over a decade ago, that was not possible. The school playground was littered with unexploded bombs.

Laos remains one of the most bombed countries in the world today.

More than 250 million submunitions, or ‘bomblets’, were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War – the equivalent of one planeload every eight minutes for nine years.

Around a third of the bombs failed to detonate as intended: they lay dormant but deadly - ready to strike at any moment.

The unexploded bombs that litter Laos are still claiming lives today – almost half a century after the war ended.

MAG has been working in Laos for over 25 years.

In 2009, MAG met Mrs Khounsay Doungmamyvoung, a teacher at Phom Toum school. The school caters for more than 200 children under the age of 14.

"Back in 1995 we decided we had to build a new school, as the one we had was far too small,” Mrs Doungmamyvoung explained. "We cleared the vegetation from the new site and found a lot of unexploded bombs. We moved the ones we found and put them in a pile on one side."

Although the bombs failed to detonate on impact, they remain deadly for decades - the girls, boys and staff at the school were lucky none of the bombs exploded.

“This was a big problem. They are very dangerous - the children were at risk,” Mrs Doungmamyvoung says of her relief that MAG was on hand to clear the bombs. "When MAG came here we asked for help to take the bombs we had found and to check the area.”

MAG teams cleared more than 5,000m² - about the size of a football field - around the school and found and safely destroyed ten unexploded bombs. Freeing the school from fear and supporting the community to provide a safe education for girls and boys.

In 2009, MAG was working to clear scores of schools of the deadly legacy of conflict in Khammouane - the province had the lowest enrolment and retention rates in Laos.

Working with International Relief and Development, MAG also supported the school renovation projects across the province.

Girls and boys who would normally help their families farm the land or collect scrap metal to sell were encouraged to attend school by the provision of free school lunches. The food for the lunches is often grown on the school grounds cleared by MAG.

In the first two years of the project, clearance and improvement work was carried out at 115 schools - where enrolment increased by 30 per cent.

"I am very happy and very proud," said Mrs Doungmamyvoung. "MAG and IRD have done amazing things here - the children are safe, whereas it was very dangerous before. Education is very important - our future depends on it.”