Exploring Lao History And Healing In Vientiane With ARTICLE22
By Danae Hendrickson
This August, ARTICLE22 returned to Laos and embarked on a unique journey with our treasured partner, Legacies of War. Together we shared sticky rice over the lunch table, attempted to perfect the Pétanque ball toss, visited a field site with MAG (Mine Advisory Group), and walked exhibition halls filled with Lao artifacts. We also had the opportunity to visit to two significant cultural landmarks in Vientiane: The Lao National Museum and the COPE Visitor Centre.
The Lao National Museum: A Look Into Lao Heritage
This beautiful museum, about 6 kilometers from the center of Vientiane, displays Lao historical and cultural heritage collections from pre-historic eras to the present. Museum director Vanpheng Keopannha and her amazing team lead us through the exhibit, enriching our experience as we learned about the rich history of Laos. As jewelry lovers, we were dazzled by the beautiful beads that were estimated to be 3,500 years old. This was just the beginning of our journey through Lao history.
As we continued on with the exhibit, we explored the remarkable story of Laos’ path to independence. A significant portion of the museum is dedicated to honoring the bravery and sacrifice of the Lao people as they fought for freedom. We viewed various images of the women and men who lead and inspired their people to fight against imperialist forces. Alongside the images were cultural artifacts – instruments, tools, art, and pottery – that reflect the strength and beauty of Laos’ history. We resonated deeply with this part of the exhibit as it reminded us of our mission to promote peace and healing.
COPE Visitor Centre: A Place Of Healing
Also located in Vientiane is the COPE (Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise) Visitor Centre. The Visitor Centre sheds light on the devastating legacy of unexploded ordnance (UXO) accidents, the ongoing efforts to clear dangerous remnants, and the critical services for people with resulting disabilities. Upon entry, we were greeted by a display of hanging “bombies” falling from a cluster bomb, representing the impact of the American Secret War’s aerial attack over nine years. As we made way to the exhibit’s center, we saw another hanging display made of makeshift prosthetics collected by COPE upon providing new medical devices to those in need.
COPE’s rehabilitation centre provides vital prosthetic and orthotic services to those who have been injured by UXO and other accidents. We read about the incredible work being done to restore mobility and provide a better future to survivors. We learned of the experiences of Mr. Singin, Mr. Ta, and others who, while cooking, farming, or playing, were harmed by UXO from the American Secret War in Laos. It was impossible to not feel a range of intense emotions in this space. 50 years after the last bomb was dropped, you can still hear the voices of those directly impacted by UXOs in Laos.
Experiencing the exhibits alongside Legacies of War was extraordinary. In the words of Legacies of War CEO, Sera, “I live and breathe this history between the United States of America and Laos day in and day out. As someone who is deeply connected to both countries – I have a very unique view.” These sites and the voices they share need to be discussed, repeated, and spread and one thing our group can start to do is radiate these messages out.
Legacies of War is driven by three core pillars: History, Healing, and Hope. The Lao National Museum and COPE Visitor Centre embodied these principles. As Americans working with partners across Laos, it is essential that we hear the voices of those impacted by the Secret War and continue to connect with partners in both countries to support the efforts of its people to move beyond the legacy of this war.
As ambassadors of ARTICLE22, we were struck by the stories of the Lao people and the beauty that prevails in Laos. The world needs to hear their stories of resilience. They demonstrate the power of unity and hope. We’ll pick up the threads of this story by connecting people around the world to this mission through symbols of transformation with jewelry made here in Laos. The ARTICLE22 team is excited to continue celebrating our partners’ beauty and strength and supporting Legacies’ work.
LOW’s Aleena recommended the must have street treat Khao nom kok, Lao coconut cakes…she can be the blame for our team’s new daily craving.
Images courtesy ARTICLE22.