A Journey Back To Laos
From the desk of Jade Phanthanouvong Powers
My life’s journey began in Savannakhet, Laos, in the year of 1978. I was born into a diligent family; my father worked at the hospital, and my mother managed a convenience store. My early years were immersed in the vibrant culture of our homeland. Nevertheless, the splendor of Laos was overshadowed by the uncertainty of political change and the looming threat of unexploded ordnance left behind after the war.
In response to these challenges, my father made the decision that we needed to leave Laos in search of a better life. That’s how we eventually found our way to America. Our new home became Hawaii, where I resided until 2019 when I relocated to Arizona. During a visit to Washington DC, I crossed paths with Legacies of War, and in that moment, I felt a strong calling to return to Laos. It was then that I decided to embark on the Forget Me Not Tour to Laos.
In August 2023, I embarked on a meaningful journey back to Laos with the Legacies of War organization, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the lingering effects of the bombings on Laos during The American Secret War. This eye-opening trip not only showcased our country’s natural beauty and rich culture but also shed light on the enduring impact of conflict on our people.
My trip began in the heart of Vientiane, the capital city, where I met with representatives from Legacies of War, https://www.legaciesofwar.org. They provided a comprehensive overview of their mission and the ongoing efforts to clear unexploded ordnance (UXO) from Laos, which has affected countless lives since the “Secret War” in Laos. We explored the Patuxai Arch, often dubbed the “Arc de Triomphe of Laos.” A symbol of the nation’s struggle for independence from colonial rule, it stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of the Laotian people’s fight for freedom.
The organization took us to various UXO education centers, where we learned about the devastating consequences of these hidden explosives. The stories of survivors and the tireless work of clearance teams left a profound impression on me. It was both heart-wrenching and inspiring to witness the resilience of the Laotian people, especially the women de-miners.
As we ventured deeper into the countryside, I encountered the legacies of Laos’ natural beauty. Our journey took us to remote villages in Xieng Khouang and Sam Nuea, which had been deeply affected by UXO incidents. Meeting survivors and families who had lost loved ones was a humbling experience. The teams were actively engaged in community development projects, providing support for UXO victims, and assisting with education and livelihood programs.
The scars of the Vietnam War also left a lasting impact on Laos, as I discovered when visiting the Plain of Jars in Phonsavan. The enigmatic stone jars, scattered across the landscape, serve as a haunting reminder of the conflict’s legacy. Despite the dangers of unexploded ordnance in the area, locals have turned the site into a place of reflection and remembrance.
Amidst the sobering experiences, we also had the opportunity to explore Laos’ spiritual side. We visited serene Buddhist temples, where we found solace and a deeper understanding of the country’s culture and spirituality.
My journey through Laos was a poignant reminder of the enduring power of legacies. They are the threads that connect the past to the present and weave the tapestry of a nation’s soul. In the quiet moments of reflection amid ancient temples and majestic surrounding mountains, I found myself deeply moved by the legacies that make Laos a place of profound beauty and enduring significance.
My trip with Legacies of War to Laos in 2023 was a deeply moving and enlightening experience. It underscored the importance of international cooperation in addressing the consequences of past conflicts and highlighted the incredible resilience and determination of the Laotian people. As I left Laos, I carried with me not only a greater awareness of the UXO issue but also a renewed commitment to supporting organizations like Legacies of War in their efforts to bring healing and hope to affected communities.