Normally, Sunday at the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Center is a day of rest for the students and trainees. However, for our Legacies of War visit about 35 women between the ages of 15-45 were busy doing what they normally do at the center — making handmade paper christmas cards, sewing, and weaving. Some are just learning the trade, others are honing their skills, but all will gain invaluable training to help them be self-supporting when they leave the center.
The women all have some sort of disability, including many with missing limbs from accidents who now have prosthetics. Four women are victims of UXO accidents. One woman in particular sat at her loom and looked up at us eagerly as we walked by. We found out she was a victim of UXO when she was a little girl in her village. She had a notebook in hand and wanted to share her story with us.
As we interviewed her, she was spinning cotton thread in the back of the building for her next piece at the loom. Her name is Bouma, a native of Xieng Khouang province, one of the most heavily bombed areas in Laos. Her story started in her village over thirty five years ago. She was ten at the time and was selected to represent her family to help build a road in her village. As she was working on the road with fellow villagers, four jet planes flew overhead and drombed bombs on them. Many died. Her leg and foot were forever maimed.
Bouma lives with this memory, remembering that day vividly. She thinks that her disability has destroyed her chances of finding a husband and having a family.
Everyone at the center was surprised that she shared her story. The women at the center never talk about their disabilities. In fact, one of the staffers mentioned that the word disability is never used at the center. No one ever talks about their story or how they feel.
As Bouma shared her story with us, she began to cry, and we cried with her. She told us that her story is important for others to hear. We hope it will touch many lives.