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Cleared land for the Laotian people


Armed violence reduction | Laos | PUBLISHED ON January 16th 2024
Vannaly Pheng has been a deminer for HI for two years. She tests her metal detector in a safe area, before going to work in a rice field near the village of Sophoun, in Phongsaly province, Northern Laos.

Vannaly Pheng has been a deminer for HI for two years. She tests her metal detector in a safe area, before going to work in a rice field near the village of Sophoun, in Phongsaly province, Northern Laos. | © G. Lordet / HI

Vannaly is 25 years old. She is a member of the HI Laos demining team and tells us about her experience.

Becoming a deminer: an intense process

"HI did a recruitment campaign via the media and loudspeakers in my region. My uncle told me they needed staff to be in a clearance team and asked if I was interested. I said yes," says Vannaly.

I am a young woman of 25. I joined HI in 2021, after graduating college with a degree in agriculture. Originally from Phongsaly province, I applied after being convinced by my uncle.

I then took the selection tests (math, reading, physical and medical) and it was only after the results were announced a few days later, that I learned I passed and that I was recruited. Before going into the field, all new recruited staff then undergo a 4-week EOD level 1 training course to learn the clearance and the demolition procedures, how to identify explosive ordnances and to work safely.

The training, which was quite intense and hard, lasted a month in Houaphanh province. I learned how explosive ordnance works, what the hazards of the UXO are, how to use equipment such as detectors, exploders radios and even megaphones. We also learned how to destroy explosive remnants of war – ERW using Explosives. When the EOD level 1 course was completed, we all were trained in first aid during a one-week course which is mandatory for all EOD personnel.

I decided to join HI's UXO clearance teams because I was aware of the impact that the explosive remnants of war have on people's daily lives in our district. I heard stories of UXO victims from my elders, so I was very aware of it. Returning safe lands to farmers to enable them to resume their activities is an important commitment for me.

Local People are grateful for the work done by HI

I appreciate the fact that I can have an impact on farmers' daily lives by cleaning up their land while removing unexploded ordnances. Yet it's not an easy job: deminers have to carry detectors that weigh quite a lot, have to stand for long hours in steep slope along hot or rainy weather and always work safely to avoid being injured.

However, all this is nothing compared to the smiles and thanks of the farmers. I feel very proud of the work done when I see the happy faces of the farmers, who now feel safe and can resume their activities safely.

Two years after being recruited to the HI teams, I am satisfied with my work. I gained experience and skills, and if the opportunity arises, I’d like to move up a grade and become a Section Commander. I hope one day to be like Lamngueun, our Team Leader who is EOD Level 3 explosive ordnance disposal. She is for me a role model.

HI achievement in Laos

Around 35 HI clearance staff have been engaged in survey and clearance operations in northern Laos for the last 4 years. HI has an unexploded ordnance (UXO) survey and clearance team that intervenes on contaminated lands, often agricultural lands, for operations that last several months. The organization also has a mobile team that carries out removal of items of UXO in specific locations, at the request of residents or authorities, reporting dangers such as the presence of a bomb on a forest path, for example. Since 2019, HI has cleared 200 hectares for the benefit of 18,000 inhabitants. In the last four years, HI teams have destroyed and secured nearly 15,000 unexploded ordnance, mines, and explosive devices of all kinds...

HI would like to thank its past and present donors The Foreign Ministry of The Netherlands (BuZA), The German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO) and The Canada Fund for Local Initiatives for supporting HI’s ongoing work to release land safely to communities in northern Laos. 

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