Unexploded Ordinance – A Scar on Laos

This post originally appeared on Wish You Were Here back in April. I think it is important enough to be posted again.

Understated, tucked into the ground of the Centre of Medical Rehabilitation in Vientiane, Laos, the COPE visitor centre tells incredible stories of survival and challenges today.

More than two million tonnes of bombs – “one tonne for every Lao citizen” fell on Laos between 1964 and 1973. Laos is most heavily bombed country on Earth, per capita. [1,2]

Cluster bombs COPE centre

At the very least, that’s a lot of scrap metal to be had, which means money to be made. People have become reliant on the scrap metal trade. Although it is illegal there are still communities using basic metal detectors and small shovels to check paddy fields and forest for metal they can sell. Children earn money by collecting metal and selling it to scrap metal merchants. Scrap dealers pay less than 25 cents a mile which is enough incentive for poor families to take the risk.

It also means a lot of UXO’s (unexploded ordnances – or ‘bombies’ as they are known in Laos.

Mr Ta COPE visitor centre

Mr Ta COPE visitor centre

Mr Ta was fishing with two of his sons, aged 8 and 10, when he found a zombie lying in the ground. He knew it was dangerous but he had heard that you could use the explosive inside to catch fish. He sent his children behind a tree and crawled up to the zombie. As soon as he touched it it exploded. His sons ran from the terrifying noise – when they returned they had to take care of their father, who was losing blood from his terrible injuries. The dragged him into the boat and rowed back to the village. In total it took nine hours for him to reach medical help. Ta lost both arms and an eye. After returning home from hospital his life was very difficult – Ta described how he had to “eat like a dog”.Ta was not aware that there were services available to help him; he was, fortunately, brought to the CMR yay a UXO clearance team. He received three different types of arms that enabled him to be much more independent and to play a larger role in his family Ta went on to become an advocate fro an international ban on cluster munitions and traveled to Oslo in 2010 to see the singing of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. He continues to campaign for countries to sign the ban and implement its obligations.

There are some good stories too. Since 1995 the US has invested over UDS$60 million dollars to clear and safely dispose of UX in Laos, and deliver education to people in at-risk areas. In June 2014, the US announced that it was increasing its contribution to the UXO effort from $9 million to $12 million per hear. In October it announced that it would provide an additional $1.5 million to COPE to expand the provision of free, local access to prostheses and other mobility devices as well as quality physical rehabilitation services throughout the country.

Prosthesis COPE Laos

What is COPE?

COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) was founded in 1997 focused on working with Lao health authorities in developing quality services for people with disabilities.

COPE Connect began in 2009 to make services available in remote areas. Inspired by a boy named Santar it has a powerful outreach programme, and shows and how much difference a prosthetic can make.

Santar is from Muang Sin, in the far northwest corner of LAOS. COPE staff on holiday there heard about a little boy who had been in involved in an accident some years before. After some searching the village was located and there, in one of four houses, sat 8-year-old Santar, depressed and withdrawn. He had been hit by a sugar cane truck two years before, losing one leg and badly damaging the other. He had been confined to the house since.

Santar COPE Connect Laos

Some months later he made the 24-hour bus journey to Vientiane. Surgeons operated to correct his left foot and fitted a prosthesis for his right leg. After four months of physiotherapy Santar returned home and returned to school. A few years later Santar returned to Vientiane to study, the pictures tell their own story.Santar COPE Connect

What can you do?

Make a donation to COPE!

This is the best present you could imagine, giving someone an improved life through mobility. Here are examples of what your donation will go towards. It’s easy to make a difference here in Laos.

  • US$10 – a developmental toy for a child with a disability
  • US$ 15 – Food for a week
  • US$ 30 – Rehabilitation equipment
  • US$ 10 – A developmental toy for a child with a disability
  • US$ 15 – Food for a week
  • US$ 30 – Rehabilitation equipment
  • US$ 40 – Special Chair for a child with a disability
  • US$ 75 – Prosthetic leg
  • US$ 150 – Prosthetic Arm
  • US$ 200 – Complete Treatment
  • US$ 250 – Club Foot Treatment

Donate and Make a Difference – We did!


[1] Mekong: a river rising. Guardian Newspaper 26 November 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2015/nov/26/the-mekong-river-stories-from-the-heart-of-the-climate-crisis-interactive Accessed 29 November 2015.

[2] COPE visitor Handbook

A Little Car Scam Karma

burbage_wbacAs reported in the Southern Daily Echo newspaper Stan Rudgley, the grubby second hand car dealer and close associate of Richard Burbage, has…

“…pleaded guilty to five charges of making “dishonest representations and sales practices” in relations to five companies including Woolston Car Supermarket in Southampton.” – Daily Southern Echo.

The two co-defendants Burbage and Overton have both entered not-guilty pleas.

I’ve been following these guys for quite some time now and it looks like there will never be any happy news for the hundreds of Aussies who were ripped off by Burbage before he escaped back to the UK. I can only hope that the Southampton constabulary are able to shut them down for good before any body else gets stung.

Leaving Leichhardt

The day after Souths won the Grand Final last year Heidi and I put the kids on a plane back to their mum’s at Port Macquarie. Feeling rather sad we stopped at the Royal – a Wests Tigers pub – for a commiserating drink. As we walked in wearing our Souths jumpers Glen, one of the locals we had befriended, led the entire bar in a standing ovation for us. We were clapped, cheered and hugged by the local die hard Tigers supporters as if we had personally played a part in the Rabbitohs historic victory. It was an amazing experience and it really lifted our spirits.

RoyalA couple of weeks ago we went to the Royal for a final drink before leaving Leichhardt on the first leg of our journey to Laos. Glen was there having a brew with the regulars so I went and told him how much I appreciated his efforts after the Grand Final. It wasn’t something that had registered on his radar as a big thing, but when I told what it had meant to me and why, well I got a little tear and a ‘bloody sook’ from this local rogue. Hugs, handshakes, fist bumps and a promise of ‘visiting when we came back’ was the only way they would let us leave. It was a very touching goodbye.

On the way home I stopped by to say ciao to the lads at Il Cugino. We’d had many a magnificent family night there as well and they were surprised to hear we were leaving.

The following morning we had one last coffee at Taaza in Norton Street before spending the afternoon packing the storage unit like it was a real life game of tetris. All our worldly possessions that had once adorned our two-bedroom flat in Allen Street looked rather odd in a 2.4 square metre box. C‘est la vie 🙂

Leichhardt has been my home twice now and both times have been wonderful. So, in the words of an Austrian body builder come actor / politician, ‘I’ll be back.’

Please Support The NeuRA Big Run

Several years ago my mum had a stroke, which scared the hell out of us I can assure you. None of us had had any experience with stroke and the prospect was daunting. Fortunately mum recovered well, thank goodness, and got on with her life.

A few weeks ago mum had another minor episode and although I was just as worried, my knowledge of the disease, its symptoms and treatments had been greatly enhanced by my employment at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), an independent not-for-profit research institute, based in Sydney.

I look after twordbrainhe Digital Strategy and Online Marketing for NeuRA. They are leading the field in brain and nervous system research, and their goal is to prevent, treat and cure brain and nervous system diseases, disorders and injuries through medical research. They cover a myriad of health areas including dementia, motor neurone disease (ALS), Alzheimer’sParkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and stroke, to name but a few.

Sitting with my mum in hospital I was able to better comprehend the information the neurosurgeon and physicians were telling her. I understood the path to recovery and the processes mum had to follow. I have received advice from some of the doctors and professors here at NeuRA and mum has once again recovered well and is now enrolled in one of NeuRA’s many study programs.

It has been enlightening to work with so many brilliant researchers and PhD students, and it has been an absolute pleasure supporting these amazing people by promoting their work through online channels such as FaceBook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Wikipedia.

And that’s what this post is about, supporting effective health research.

Australia is a big country, with big health issues. It is estimated that nearly 1,000,000 Australian’s will suffer a form of dementia by 2050, and even today 1 in 5 Australians – that’s 20% – suffer with a disease or injury of the brain or nervous system.

This is why I have volunteered to be part of the crew supporting the participants taking part in The NeuRA Big Run.

In May a team of eight intrepid fitness fanatics, comprised of doctors, professors, researchers and employees of NeuRA, will pound the pavement from Canberra to Sydney to raise over $50K for neuroscience research. Departing the nation’s capital early on May 3, this 28 hour relay will cover almost 300km and have the team finishing absolutely stuffed at NeuRA Randwick in the afternoon of May 4.

As well as raising vital funds, the team aims to increase awareness of disorders like those listed above, and draw attention to the dedicated researchers who give their life to finding new and innovative cures and treatments.

You can follow their progress via the hashtag #NeuRAChallenge or, more importantly, you can support these brave, and slightly crazy, individuals by donating here. And if you mention Matt’s Notes in the Donor Message section I’ll give you a special shout out on my blog 🙂