Manophet is quiet, good-hearted Lao man in Xieng Khouang Province who works as a translator at the UXO Lao during the day and runs an English language school from his home in the evenings. I met him three and a half years ago when I first visited Laos. He was my tour guide in Xieng Khouang, and as we visited the Plain of Jars, he told me about the problem of UXO and the many people who have been killed and injured. On that day we passed a clearance team truck, and later, as I walked among the stone jars at site two, we heard the distant boom of bombies being blown up. It had a tremendous impact on me. Because of Manophet I came home determined to do something to help. Through an internet search, I contacted Channapha and learned of the newly organized Legacies of War project. It has sent me on an entirely new journey in life, one I hope will end with a brighter future for the people of Laos.
Despite his busy work schedule, Manophet was able to take the Legacies group to the foundry to see the UXO that has been collected by villagers. He also arranged for two separate groups to visit UXO Lao and witness a bomb demolition in the field. Both of these experiences have added greatly to our understanding on trip. He took time out to see us off at the airport. I couldn't help from being my American self and probably embarrassed him terribly by giving him a hug.
It was a particular treat for me to see Manophet again this trip and have an opportunity to visit his school. I was struck by the great enthusiasm of his students, their polite and sweet nature, and the excitement with which they conversed with us. They all want to further their education and go to university. This is the opportunity and motivation Manophet provides these young men and women, who mostly come from poor farming villages. While he charges a small monthly fee for the classes, many pay with bags of rice or a chicken, and in some cases not at all.
Manophet's own story is not unlike many people who live in Xieng Khouang. In 1968, his family's village was bombed and destroyed. His parents ran from their burning house with their children, but in the confusion, his father went one direction and his mother another. His father ended up in the refugee camps in Vientiane with three of the children. Manophet, his mother and several siblings remained in the war zone and lived in a cave for six years until the war ended. The family was reunited eventually in Xieng Khouang, but one son was missing and assumed dead. Fifteen years later, they received a letter from a Hmong family that had immigrated to the United States. They had found Manophet's brother as they too fled the bombing. They took him with them on the long trek out of Laos to the refugee camps in Thailand and adopted him when they were relocated to Minnesota. The brother has been able to visit Manophet and his family in recent years. In return, Manophet has adopted and raised two Hmong brothers orphaned by UXO.
Manophet is another person who embodies the Lao spirit, working to help his people as best he can. And I am honored to know him.