Davan, trainee, HALO Laos
During the Vietnam War, two million tonnes of explosives were dropped on Laos, including 270 million cluster bombs. Nearly five decades later, the remnants of this conflict are still claiming lives, with an estimated 20,000 people killed or injured since the war ended.
But now, thanks to the support of the U.S. Department of State, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA), a new generation of young men and women in Laos are working to make their country safe.
Our team in Laos is growing, recruiting almost 400 new members of staff from across Savannakhet Province—one of the poorest and most heavily bombed areas of the country. Over 70 per cent of people here live below the poverty line. Most families rely on cultivating rice to survive, but the presence of cluster bombs and other explosives puts their lives at risk.
By training and employing local men and women to make their own communities safe, HALO can create opportunities for families to rebuild their lives. In Nong district alone, over 1,000 people attended our recruitment day and we were delighted to select 120 of them for training.
“HALO’s work is very important for poor families who live near areas contaminated by explosives. When HALO comes to my village, everyone will be very happy to welcome them. Hopefully then everyone will be safer and we will have no more accidents.”
Davan is 18 years old and has been selected for HALO Laos’ first all-female training course, alongside 60 other women from Nong district. She knows only too well the danger of unexploded bombs. Her sister was killed and her mother injured in an accident involving unexploded items. Of the 120 men and women recruited from Nong, 35 per cent have family members who have been injured or killed by explosives.
The training course will be run by 22-year-old Malaythong Khodsisa. Malaythong joined HALO Laos in 2017 and quickly rose from Technician to Team Leader. After coming top of her class in explosive ordnance disposal training, she has now been promoted to Training Officer.
“I feel very happy about my role as Training Officer, even though it can be tiring, helping them to understand their tasks and learn how to do their required jobs in the field. I am very proud that I am playing an important role in developing the HALO workforce and improving skills for the country as a whole.”
With funding from PM/WRA, we have also been able to build a new training ground at our base in Sepon, where all recruits are now taught. Next month, many of the new teams will return to Nong to begin work, making the land where they grew up, safe for future generations.