September 10, 1996

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Aug 27 2008

The date was etched in blue ink in Bounmi's notebook. During our meeting at the Consortium in Ponsavanh, not far from the Plain of Jars, he stared down at the page and retraced the digits again and again, darkening them further with each stroke. Bounmi was a volunteer at the Consortium, an organization dedicated to raising awareness among the local population in Xieng Khouang about the problem of UXO, and helping those who have been wounded as a result of their encounters with unexploded ordnance. On that September day in 1996, Bounmi was digging a large hole near his family's house in a village outside of Ponsavanh; he was working on a fish pond that the family could use as a source of food (ponds like these are common in Laos, and in fact some families have made creative use of craters from bombs dropped by the U.S. during the war for this very purpose). As he was digging, his shovel suddenly hit a piece of ordnance, and it exploded. Bounmi was rushed to the nearest medical facility, and his life was saved--but he lost his left arm. As he listened to the discussion, he used his right hand to trace and retrace the date: September 10, 1996. A date that changed his life forever, and one he certainly thinks about many times a day. I think our group found Bounmi and his colleague, a fellow volunteer at the Consortium who also was wounded by UXO in a separate incident in 1996 and lost his left hand, a true inspiration. Not only did they go back to school, study hard, and have high hopes for their futures; they are also giving back by volunteering at the Consortium to help others whose lives have been forever altered by an encounter with UXO in the countryside surrounding Ponsavanh. As of September, Bounmi will be studying English at the teacher's training college in Ponsavanh; he has already made quite good progress. He and his colleague were able to join us for dinner later in the evening after our meeting at the Consortium, and, if quiet at times, they seemed genuinely happy to have the opportunity to meet the group--to practice some English, and to interact with such a diverse group from so far away. I hope that they both will remember that day as well, and that it will alter their lives forever, at least in some small way, for the good.