All-Women Bomb Clearance Team Leader
“Our team can show that women can do anything! I want people to know that Lao women are as strong as women from other countries” – Manixia Thor
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As a mother and demining technician, Manixia Thor is helping to change the landscape of Laos, one dangerous item at a time. After completing high school in 2007, Manixia joined the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) as a UXO clearance technician. Now at age 24, Manixia has worked her way up to become the Deputy Team Leader of one of MAG’s all-female UXO clearance teams, funded by the U.S. Government. She loves working alongside the other women and believes they are a shining symbol of the great changes in current day Laos. Her all-female UXO clearance team has proved to be just as capable if not harder working than the other teams. Occasionally, some men doubt whether women can work as well as them, but Manixia and her team love to prove them wrong!
Manixia, who is Hmong and Lao from Xieng Khoang, says goodbye to her young son before going to her work site for the next three weeks, where she will work alongside her team to clear bombs from a local village.
Manixia says UXO are a particularly big problem for farmers in Xieng Khouang, as they are in real danger of becoming the victim of a UXO explosion every time they go to the fields. Manixia is proud that through her work she is able to make life safer for farmers, their families, and other people living in the province so that they can develop and build better futures.
Manixia’s family is very much committed to supporting her, looking after her 2 year old son while she is working. Her husband is the Operations Support Officer, assisting the international technical manager and providing technical support to the UXO clearance teams.
Manixia and her family have personally experienced the dangers of UXO. Her uncle was involved in an UXO accident 15 years ago, losing one of his hands. Part of her motivation to work for MAG is to be able to help ensure that such things do not happen to others in the future.
Bomb Accident Survivor & Victim Assistance Advocate
“My story is largely about good fortune: I survived the accident even though I had to travel far and for a long time to get medical treatment. I was able to get schooling because my disability did not require many special services. My education allowed me to volunteer and get a great job. I know this is not an opportunity all survivors in Laos have access to”
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At age 8, Thoummy Silamphan took a short half-mile hike outside his village in the Xieng Khouang Province of Laos in search of bamboo shoots in order to help feed his family. Using a simple spade to help him dig through the dirt and debris, his shovel suddenly struck an unexploded ordnance (UXO). The blast of the “bombie”, as the locals call it, ripped through Thoummy’s left hand causing him excruciating pain. Nearby villagers rushed towards the sound of the blast to find Thoummy lying on the ground bleeding profusely, it would take them nearly 45 minutes to carry Thoummy’s to his home and another 70 minutes to reach the local provincial hospital.
Thoummy was hospitalized for 28 days, during which his left hand was amputated. During the recovery stages, learning to cope with not having a hand was very physically and mentally challenging. Thoummy recounts a period of depression but he was very fortunate to have a strong family foundation to help in his recovery. Faced with a life altering injury, Thoummy’s life became much more difficult, but with great determination he vowed to fight on.
Thoummy would go on to complete high school and attend Vongchareun Development College. After his university studies, Thoummy would go on to serve as a field assistant for World Education specifically working on UXO survivor assistance. Thoummy now heads the Quality of Life Association in Xieng Khouang; the first association to serve UXO victims in Laos. Also, in 2010 Thoummy joined Ban Advocates, a project of Handicap International, which organizes individuals who have been affected by cluster bombs and advocate for the international ban of such weapons.
Since Thoummy’s injury, he has been a forceful advocate for UXO survivors and has spoken at international conferences around the world serving as a spokesperson to ban cluster munitions. Thoummy is 25 years old and speaks Lao and some English.