By Phon Thikeo
April 29, 2012
UXO accident survivors, family members of UXO victims and impoverished people living in Xieng Khuang province are learning job skills with the help of a local support group – the Xieng Khuang Quality of Life Association (QLA).
QLA Chairman Mr Thoummy Silamphan said the province set up and registered the non-profit association last year. Its main aim is to provide people with information about what to expect after an accident and to provide support for UXO accident survivors. It is also looking at ways to solicit donations from foreign tourists.
Mr Thoummy said they set up the association in Xieng Khuang province because it is one of the most bomb affected areas in Laos. “Xieng Khuang, know for the Plain of Jars, is also the plain of scars.”
He said the presence of the buried bombs affects the quality of life of local people in many ways. Economic development is stalled. Children need to learn at an early age that they must be careful around their homes and villages. Agriculture is more difficult and often dangerous. Many people who have survived an accident need expensive medical care and follow-up treatment; families who have lost a loved one also need economic support and new livelihoods.
The association’s membership consists mainly of people who survived a UXO accident or their immediate family members.
Mr Thoummy said funds for activities are raised through donations and contributions from international donors. The QLA runs a visitor centre, village shop, and traditional massage parlour in the provincial capital Phonsavan.
The visitor centre informs international tourists through a modern illustrated exhibition about “our lives with the bombs” and “survivor stories”. In a reading and video room visitors can read books and watch videos made by the QLA. The village shop sells products made in UXO-affected communities.
The QLA centre has been designed with assistance from Germany (GIZ, Schmitz Foundation, and German Embassy) and the USA (World Education, McKnight Foundation, and American Embassy). Three tour guides tell visitors about their own lives, which are representative examples of the stories of many UXO survivors.
The QLA supports UXO affected communities through training on animal raising, weaving and dyeing, and the production of hand-crafted souvenirs. Another important aspect is emergency and long term medical care as well as psycho-social support.
“The money we get from our services and donations is used to help UXO survivors and poor people by running training courses for them,” Mr Thoummy said.
The association has run training courses for UXO accident survivors, family members of UXO victims and poor people in nine villages of the province that were targeted by the association for assistance after it conducted a survey among local communities.
“We select 15 people representing 15 families in a village to attend a course. We firstly give priority to a UXO affected family member and UXO survivors because they are our target groups. Our second priority is poor families,” Mr Thoummy said.
After attending a training course on livestock or poultry raising, each person is given 600,000-700,000 kip to use as capital to undertake this activity. Those who attend a training course on weaving, making handicrafts or tailoring can sell their products at the QLA village shop.
The association provides all the materials needed for trainees to make the products and pays them for each item in accordance with their ability and the orders placed by the QLA. A training course on tailoring has taught women how to sew small fabric bags to contain laptops and mobile phones.
Mr Thoummy said the association will continue to help UXO affected communities in all districts of the province. A large number of people need assistance and have no permanent job to provide them with a regular source of income.