The Invisible Current that Sustains Legacies

By: Fred Branfman / Posted: Aug 20, 2008 / Category: Laos Trip / 2 Comments »

Aug 20 2008

She had been a child of ten, up there on the Plain of Jars in 1971, working on clearing a road near her village along with other villagers. Suddenly an airplane came over and dropped its bombs. She was hit in her left foot. “It hurt terribly!”, she said, and she was crippled for life. She told her story softly, as the survivors so often do. “How did she feel towards those who had bombed her?”, she was asked. Suddenly her demeanor changed, tears formed in her eyes. “I am still angry about it”, she answered, “it ruined my life! My life has been so miserable ever since. I couldn’t find a husband, no husband would marry me! I couldn’t have children, a family. I am all alone. I have had to work so hard!”

As she talked Channapha, who was translating, stopped and began to cry. She could talk no more. Vivi, next to her, also facing the woman, began to weep also. I stood there in shock, having a flashback to 1970, remembering conversations like this day after day, week after week, month after month, as I took visitors out to the camps while the bombing was murdering and maiming new lovely people like this daily. Of the dozens I took out to the camp, only two weeped: Noam Chomsky and Flora Lewis, the N.Y. Times columnist. I felt particularly close to them, as I did this day to Channapha and Vivi.

I asked Channapha about her reaction afterwards. “I looked at the woman, I looked at Vivi, and it was like an invisible current passed between us, we were all together in that instant”.

I guess it’s the ability of the members and supporters of Legacies of War to feel that invisible current that sustains our organization. I guess also it is that invisible current that so many others feel that is the only hope of our increasingly mad nation, so consumed by fear that it tolerates slowly becoming a police-state and ongoing war-making that creates tens of thousands of more victims while only making us weaker.

Afterwards I thought of the contrast between the pilots that bombed that village that day and the ten-year old girl whose life they would thoughtlessly ruin. I thought of the layers of multi billion aircraft attacking villages lacking running water and electricity, dropping their expensive bombs, and their pilots returning home to a good lunch, nap, and evening of carousing at one of the many nearby bars. Their war ended when their tour ended. They never even thought of those for whom the war would never end, broken victims who would still, forty years later, be paying the price for their acts.

But mostly, I remembered the tear.

It was in the corner of her right eye, and it remained there throughout our talk.

I could not stop looking at it.

I remember it now.


Visiting the Lao Disabled Woman’s Development Center

By: Sakuna Thongchanh / Posted: Aug 18, 2008 / Category: Laos Trip / No Comments »

Aug 18 2008

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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.

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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.

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Our First Day of Meetings

By: Elaine Russell / Posted: Aug 18, 2008 / Category: Laos Trip / No Comments »

Aug 18 2008

On Sunday, August 17th six members of our group had the opportunity to visit the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Center at their facility just outside Vientiane. This is a small, grass roots organization that sponsors disabled women from poor villages to live at the center for a year. The women learn job skills in computers, weaving, sewing and paper making. The beautiful products they make are sold to raise funds. The training gives the women the ability to earn a living once they return to their villages. Depending on the year anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of the women at the center are disabled due to injuries from cluster bombs.

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In the late afternoon we met with the Mennonite Central Committee staff at their offices for a briefing and discussion about their programs in Laos. They have been working here since 1977 helping rural villages with health care, water and agricultural projects. The MCC was one of the first organizations to draw attention to the problem of unexploded cluster bombs in Laos and helped facilitate the first removal programs. The MCC staff prepared a great dinner for us as well!


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