A Priceless Gem: COPE Visitor Centre in Vientiane
August 16, 2012 - Vientiane, Laos
Apart from the city’s amazing sunsets, one of Vientiane’s true gems is not in its historic structures, or its overall stuck in the 80’s look, but the UXO (UneXploded Ordnance) Museum by COPE.
Lao PDR is the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. Over 2 million tons of ordnance (more than 270 million bombies) were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973. Approximately 30% failed to detonate leaving 80 million unexploded bombies in Laos after the war. Over 50,000 people have been killed or injured by these bombs during the war, and over 20,000 after the war. And given that there are still a lot of UXOs in the country, the cases of post war casualties are likely to increase.
Good thing there are groups like COPE that help generate awareness about this, gather funds through donations, and ultimately give victims of UXOs a new lease on life with custom-made prosthetics.
The COPE Visitor Centre has a wealth of information on the history of UXOs, how they are used today, case studies of UXO victims, films, and a souvenir shop and cafe where you can “buy/give good karma” through the purchase of merchandise, coffee, or ice cream, the proceeds of which go to COPE’s Rehabilitation Efforts. I never felt better about my slightly more expensive coffee or my underwhelming ice cream.
It’s sad to hear of the stories of families who lost loved ones because of UXOs, or victims whose lives were completely altered by UXO encounters, and if you’re feeling depressed at all about your life, a visit to COPE Visitor Centre will make you feel like a whiny bitch who complains about being so fortunate. At the same time, it’s inspiring to see how organizations like COPE help bring hope and dignity back to people injured by UXOs, and even more inspiring to see these people surpass their disabilities and lead “normal”, if not even more enlightened lives.
So, I dare say, skip everything else in Vientiane, you don’t even have to bother with Patuxai or the temples, because even if you just have enough time to visit the COPE Visitor Centre (and walk along the Mekong River at sunset), then Vientiane will have been worth your while.