COPE

Written by Jane Harris No Gravatar

Today we went to visit the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) in the Laos capital, Vientiane. Founded in 1997, COPE provides prosthetics and mobility devices free of charge to people who need them. Many of its patients are victims of accidents relating to cluster bombs left over from the Vietnam war.

I mentioned before how many missile cases we saw when we were in the north of the country.  What I hadn’t realised is that, per capita, Laos is the most bombed country in the world. From 1964 to 1973 missiles containing over 260 million cluster bombs (called ‘bombies’ locally) were dropped on its villages and towns. Of those, it is estimated that 30 per cent failed to detonate. Newly exploded bombies kill or injure 300 people in Laos every year. As well as the immediate impact on victims, the financial burden on their families can be significant – not just in terms of medical care but in terms of the lost productivity and earning capacity.

COPE has an excellent exhibition at the National Rehabilitation Centre. The bombies we saw there were small – about the size of a tennis ball. Often they are picked up by children or inadvertently triggered by those working the land or building fires on it for cooking.  Sadly many impoverished people resort to searching out old munitions in order to sell them for scrap metal. Statistics say that almost one in three of the devices they come across will be live.

As well as providing prosthetics for victims COPE supports the development of rehabilitation programmes and works with local agencies to ensure that its services are sustainable. It asks that visitors to the exhibition inform others through their blogs or emails.  So here we are. To find out more about the work of COPE please take a look at www.copelaos.org.

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