By way of introduction, I was asked at a recent Seminar in Armidale about my involvement with charities because this particular young lady had a group that made $50 per week which it would like to donate to a worthy cause. I have not spoken about my support for charities in an E-Report before and so I am taking this opportunity to do so.
I have supported many registered charities over the years and have actively sponsored two children through World Vision. The enormous amount of overheads involved with collecting and administering funds with World Vision, being more than 50 cents in every dollar I understand, plus the waste in Lao PDR (formerly referred to as Laos) has resulted in me withdrawing my support. World Vision in Lao PDR operate from an office in a huge building and pay US$7,000 per month - a friend of mine who has in excess of over 100 employees operates from an adequate building for less than $300 per week - and there's more, I am sure you get my meaning.
Let me tell you a little about MiVAC - Mines Victims and Clearance, (if I had my way I would call it Mine Survivors and Clearance). It is the initiative of Australian Vietnam veterans and is in its 8th year of operation. I am the Patron of MiVAC and was invited to assist because of my involvement with mines and booby trapped tunnels in Vietnam. Many former Diggers have seen what devastating effects landmines and other remnants of war can do and some wanted to do something about the tragedy of mines. Membership of the Trust has broadened to include Humanitarian Aid workers, members of the Peace Keeping Forces and, of course, many concerned civilians.
I recently went to Lao PDR and would like to tell you of MiVAC's work there and the devastation that was wreaked on that small country in the "Secret War" between 1965 to 1975.
First - an example of MiVAC's work
MiVAC has worked on 9 projects in Cambodia, 1 in Sri Lanka and 2 in Lao PDR.
Here is an example of the work in Cambodia.
Lao PDR - a little background
During the Vietnam War 1965-73 Laos (as it was known then) was used by the North Vietnamese to supply their own soldiers and the Viet Cong (VC) fighting in South Vietnam. This was known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The Pathet Lao, like the VC in South Vietnam, were assisting the North Vietnamese and were fighting the Royal Lao forces in Laos. The Americans had Military Advisors, some Soldiers and a Pilots in Laos throughout the Vietnam War. Thailand had several battalions of Soldiers fighting the Pathet Lao in Laos throughout this time.
The bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, by the Americans was of such an intensity that we now know that Laos is the most bombed country in all of the world. This was all without the knowledge of the United States Senate and hence it is known as the Secret War. 17 of the 19 provinces were bombed - a much wider focus than the Ho Chi Minh Trail itself. Why? Because no aircraft with bombs on board would go back to their own base without discharging the bombs. The bombing was indiscriminate. It is estimated that 277 million small anti personnel cluster bombs together with over one million tons of bombs were dropped during this time
Why is it a problem 35 years on?
The main reason is that there was a 30% failure rate in the bombs going off at the time, which means that live bombs still litter the country side. The numbers killed and injured are staggering "According to Mike Boddington, victim assistance technical adviser with the NRA, in the four month period from January to April 2008 alone, 17 accidents were reported, with a total of 47 casualties, including 15 deaths - nine of whom were children. One hundred people were injured or killed by UXOs, mostly bomblets, in 2007 and 49 people in 2006." - and this is only the reported casualties, there is no assistance from the Government so there is no purpose in spending time to go to Vientiane to tell the authorities.
A dollar a day is a good wage - the country is poor and 80% of people are subsistence farmers, farming in bomb infested rice fields. The iron and steel scrap is the biggest industry and supports 15 foundries that make reinforcing building steel (in the main). When people go looking for scrap with a Vietnamese $12 Mine Detector supplied by the foundries they find the lucrative scrap but ..... they find a lot of bombs too ....... and get killed and maimed.
It is estimated that Mine Clearing Organisations will take thousands of years to clear the bombed areas. The country may be safe in another hundred years because the explosive will have deteriorated and the bombs rusted out - but at what ongoing cost in lives?
My Trip to Lao PDR
The main purpose was to
1 Present MiVAC's credentials to become a registered NGO in Lao PDR
2. To witness the bombing devastation
3. To visit the small village of Houayyen in Khammouane Province (alongside a main route of the Ho Chi Minh trail) where we paid for the clearing of surface bombs
4. To examine a potential further project at the same village being to de-mine 90 hectares of their rice growing areas which is currently unsafe. (However they have no choice but to work most of this land.)
I was shocked at the amount of fighting and bombing in Lao PDR - it certainly was a secret war and there are only a few of us who know the plight of the Lao people. I have resolved to do something about this and this E-Report is a beginning.
Here are some photos from the clearing of the village
We have been quoted by Phoenix Clearance Ltd that to clear the rice paddy down to a depth of over 1 metre the cost will be $180,000 ($2,000 per hectare). We have done our homework and know that other clearance organisations charge up to $12,000 per hectare. We believe that in no small measure the reason for this disparity is the efficiency of the organisation - whose principals and senior staff, by the way, are ex soldiers previously serving with the Australian Corps of Military Engineers.
Here are some photos of villagers and the rice paddy in the dryer season than the picture above
Put simply - to raise funds and awareness.
How can you help
By helping to do the above. If you join MiVAC as a member we have a presentation DVD that you can use to talk to schools or clubs. You can also donate funds - if you need a Tax Deductible receipt please ask for it Please check out their website at www.mivactrust.org
Donations to MiVAC may be made by:
- Sending a cheque (crossed and payable to the MiVAC Trust) or money order to:
The MiVAC Trust
PO Box 967
Sandy Bay, Tasmania 7005
- Pay with a credit card secure online
Click this link https://www.aus-e.net/globaldevelopment/donations.php
where you will go to Global Developments website who run an online account for MiVAC. You will receive a Tax Deductible receipt in the name of MiVAC and Global Development. Please ensure that you complete the line “My Donation to go to” and then put MiVAC - Lao PDR.
- Pay with a credit card by phone
Call 03-6264 1485 (if you cannot get through then telephone me - Sandy MacGregor at 02 9457 7133)
Rob Woolley Trustee.
- Direct payment to MiVAC bank account
Account Number 15-5418
Westpac Kingston Tasmania
So, thank you for taking the time to read this - I am hoping it is not too much of an imposition on you. I would love you to be involved and make a difference to the people of the most bombed country on earth.
All The Best