Giving Mr Bounlan a hand…
During the Vietnam War, conflict spilled over into Laos where over two million tonnes of ordnance was dropped – making it the most heavily bombed country in the world, per capita. It is estimated that more than 80 million cluster bombs still remain.
Project ‘J553N COPE (‘Cooperative Orthotic Prosthetic Enterprise’) works to overcome the burden of UXO by providing survivors and other people with disabilities access to orthotic and prosthetic devices, and rehabilitation services including physiotherapy, occupational therapy and paediatric services in partnership with Government managed Centre of Medical Rehabilitation (CMR).
During November this year the project ran a ‘Connect Mobile Clinic’ in Laos. These clinic teams provide a range of life-changing services addressing the immediate needs of poor people with disabilities. The project provides free-of-charge rehabilitation services in remote areas, as well as follow-up in Provincial Rehabilitation Centres (PRCs). It also builds the capacity of the Lao rehabilitation system to better meet patients’ future needs. It also raises awareness and improves referrals among health workers, communities and local government officials.
While on the road, the team assessed 210 people with mobility related disabilities. One of these people was Mr Bounlan, who was a solider in the Lao army clearing landmines, just two years ago. He is proud to have removed 149 landmines safely, however it was his 150th removal that took away his left hand, as well as the thumb on his right hand. Despite the tragic loss and physical difficulty, Mr Bounlan was forced to work hard in his rice paddy to provide for his family. Two of his three children also suffered as a result of the accident, as they had to stay and help him in the fields and were unable to get a higher education after finishing high school.
Mr Bounlan had heard about COPE but he had no money or time to travel to the Provincial Rehabilitation Centre. His opportunity came when the mobile team visited his village and took a cast of his upper-limb stump. COPE will manufacture a prosthetic, as well as functional tools, tailored to his needs. In just a couple of weeks the team will return to pick up Mr Bounlan, and quite literally, give him a hand!
The work of COPE is held in high regard. The centre was also recently visited by US President Barack Obama.