Laos….for many people it is the "Land of a Million Elephants", "a small piece of paradise on earth".
The many visitors now flocking to Laos leave the country with fond impressions and memories of beautiful vistas, friendly locals, great food, wonderful temples and a totally relaxed lifestyle.
But there is another side of life to this beautiful country…
Laos is one of the poorest nations on earth. Only a small percentage of Lao live in towns and cities - the majority of the population survives by farming at subsistence levels, often having to travel many kilometres each day just to collect water.
Sanitation is very basic and medical care is often not available because of the huge travel times to hospitals in larger towns. Diseases sweep through villages and people have no resistance and cannot fight them. Due to malnutrition and starvation whole villages can be devastated.
the 1960’s/70’s war in south-east Asia, areas of Laos were the most
heavily bombed places on earth - approximately 250
thousand tons of bombs were dropped on Laos during the war. Many of
these bombs and other devices did not explode on impact and lie
scattered around the countryside.
Approximately 5000 people a year are killed by unexploded ordinance (UXOs) as
starvation causes desperate parents to clear land or forage in areas where they know there are bombs because they are trying to find food.
often find the unexploded bombs and play with them as toys or collect
them for their metal... with disastrous consequences.
Every year there are hundreds of Lao children and adults injured and killed by these
unexploded cluster bombs.
When a child is orphaned or cannot be cared-for by their immediate family, the child’s extended family or village tries to look after them. But as subsistence farmers, where every day is a fine line between life and death, the burden of feeding an extra child where there are no extra adults to help with planting rice or hunting becomes too much.
For many children the only hope of survival is to find their way to an orphanage school. And even for children who do have families, access to anything more than the most basic education requires them to leave home and go to a government high school.
All children who actually manage to get themselves to school are allowed to finish high school, no matter what their age. Most children walk down from the mountains, sometimes taking days to get to the nearest school. Their families hope that when they finish they will get jobs in the government such as the public service, police or army, or have an opportunity to go on to Teacher Training College and come back and set up schools in the villages, or at least be able to send a little money home to help out.