In one sense this project started almost accidentally but turned into one of the most instructive projects undertaken so far thanks to the guidance of MiVAC’s in-country partner, Phoenix Clearance Limited (PCL). Initially the project started when staff at Kohai School appealed to passing PCL staff to clear cluster munitions (bombie) littering the school playground. That initial request led to playgrounds at Ko Hai Secondary School, Kohai Infants School and Phonvilay School being cleared, clearance of a neighbouring, heavily contaminated rice paddy, educating villagers of the dangers of UXOs, the training of forty local UXO technicians and ultimately to providing assistance through additional school facilities which is reported separately under Kohai School.
MiVAC would like to acknowledge the generous donations of MoJo Communications, Hope Adelaide, MET School Meadowbank Campus & Mary Farally Trust that made this project possible.
This project was undertaken in several phases not all of which were foreseen at the inception of the project but new needs that had to be addressed urgently kept arising.Â Thus, from the initial phase four other phases were identified as follows:
- To clear UXO from the grounds of Ko Hai Secondary school,
- To clear UXOs from school grounds Ban Phonvilay and from the infants school in Ko Hai,
- To clear UXOs from a heavily contaminated rice paddy adjacent to Ko Hai school,
- To complete clearance of the rice paddy, and
- Train Ko Hai locals to Level One UXO technician standard
Clearance of the playground at Ko Hai Secondary school was undertaken in September 2009. This resulted in 3 x 20lb fragmentation bombs, 21 x 20mm AC HE rounds, 1 x M23 white Phosphorous Napalm Igniter, 1 x 4.2in illumination round and 18 BLU-26 cluster bombs being located and safely destroyed.
In October 2009 the second school clearance project was undertaken which cleared 19 UXOs from Ban Phonvilay school and 12 UXOs for Kohai Infant School. These included 1 x 20lb fragmentation bomb, 10 x 20mm AC HE rounds, 2 x M23 white Phosphorous Napalm Igniters, 18 x BLU-26 cluster bombs.
However, after locals also advised of extensive cluster munition (bombie) contamination, PCL also conducted an initial assessment of the neighbouring rice paddy and confirmed the potential threat this area posed. This project entailed recruiting six locals to assist in the execution of the project. Enlisting locals helps the village economy through income flows and skill transference but also gives locals ownership of the role of clearing UXOs from their own village.
Clearance of the rice paddy adjoining the school was undertaken in January 2010 and resulted in 87 UXOs being removed or neutralised including the defusing of a 500 lb bomb.
Following from the partial clearance an opportunity arose for the remainder of the rice paddy to be cleared. In this instance though PCL adopted the clearance project as an opportunity to 40 local Lao, twenty from Ko Hai and twenty from Saysomboun / Thatom districts as UXO technicians.
Outcomes and achievements
The achievements of Ko Hai went beyond rendering school grounds and rice paddies safe and providing security for villagers but for the first time MiVAC realised that the trust established in the clearance role was a foundation for providing continuing victim assistance through infrastructure construction, development aid and empowerment.
This project provided an opportunity initially to employ six locals to assist in the clearance process. These local staff members showed pride in their role of helping rid their country and region of legacy weapons. Moreover, local staff members, some of whom had never before had paid employment, were proud they were now able to contribute economically to their village and to their families.
However, this project also uncovered the potential for women to be training as UXO technicians and this will become a focus of joint MiVAC / PCL.