Laos: Having Completed AAR Japan’s Mission in Xieng Khuang

In Laos, many cluster bombs dropped during the Indochina War still remain in the soil as unexploded ordnance (UXOs). From 2010 to June 2014, AAR Japan set up a local office in Xieng Khuang Province, a province located in the north of Laos that has been badly affected, and provided various activities to reduce damage inflicted by UXO-related accidents.
From June 2013 to June 2014, AAR Japan provided training in first-aid techniques necessary to survive UXO-related accidents to 305 village health volunteers (VHVs) in 171 villages and 56 nurses for 22 health centers (HCNs). In 26 villages which had recently suffered many UXO-related accidents, AAR Japan provided workshops on first-aid techniques to a total of 1,300 villagers. In addition, with cooperation of a local organization, we prepared posters to have villagers know how to be alert in their daily lives to prevent UXO-related accidents and composed a song on the dangers of UXOs, offering them to the organization and radio stations.
Below is a summary by Noriko ANDO, an AAR Japan volunteer involved in the initatives, including the details of the hands-on training and workshops at the site and remarks from villagers.
AAR has installed ramps and constructed accessible lavatories to make it easier for children with disabilities to attend school in Khwowaja Sayaran Public School and Sediqi Public School in Parwan Prefecture.
Noriko ANDO instructs HCNs on resuscitation. (December 23rd, 2013)

“Does Urine stop bleeding?”Addressing problems caused by traditional treatments

There are still a lot of villages utilizing traditional treatments such as utilizing chewed herbs or urine on injuries to stop bleeding. These treatments often exacerbate the wound, necessitating more complicated treatments later at the hospital. In villages away from hospitals, VHVs appointed by village leaders provide medical treatment such as prescribing simple medicine. However, their ignorance of proper treatments could lead to the loss of lives that might be have been saved. AAR Japan provided a full explanation of the problems caused by traditional methods as well as proper first-aid techniques at workshops.
Some VHVs opposed our methods, remarking “I myself stopped my bleeding using these methods. They are effective,” “We have been told to do so since long time ago.” We explained the discrepancies, that “it was just a timely deed of urinating on the injury when it was time to stop bleeding,” “You will be infected with viruses through herbs,” “On clean rinsing of injuries at hospitals, herbs are stuck to injuries and become difficult to remove.” Although initially fazed by our remarks, the VHV’s listened and learned to treat injuries properly. Doctors in district hospitals reported in appreciation of our activities that the practice of using herbs to stop bleeding after AAR Japan’s training had ended, resulting in the decrease of complicated treatments at their hospitals.
Seryang, Xieng Khuang Office staff teaches how to stop bleeding of injuries when arms are amputated by UXO explosion. We apply gauze or clean cloth to a bleeding part and press it firmly against the injury. (September 24th, 2013)

Preparing for accidents through training

People in Laos were generally unwilling to practice CPR in our trainings. Similar to Japanese people, Laotians are shy and rarely take initiative in doing something in the presence of others. When they began to tackle the practice conquering their shyness, those in the last group resisted saying that they could manage after they had seen the action performed repeatedly. In response, local staff responded, urging them to realize that “just observing the action won’t enable you to carry it out on the spot during accidents and it is the VHVs’ duty to help villagers. Let’s practice to respond to accidents efficiently.” After practicing heart massage, the participants found it tough and exhausting and that it needed more power than expected. We told them that was why we needed as many helping hands as possible and they should take turns. We were able to share the importance of good teamwork in addition to improved knowledge.
We urge villagers, who are shy, to take turns at hands-on practices. On the left is Mai KAIZAWA, a staff member of the Xieng Khuang Office. (November 28th, 2013)

An unforgettable accident

At 7:00 a.m. on the last day of AAR Japan’s activities, there was a call to our office. A VHV from an adjacent district was on the line, stating that a “UXO accident has happened. We have performed first-aid treatment but the victim has stopped breathing. We want to transport him to a hospital but don’t have a car available. What should we do? Could you lend us a car?” It was approximately 60 km from our office to the site of the accident. We would not have make it in time. We asked “Isn’t there a health center or a hospital nearby?” but she repeatedly said, “We can’t go.” We remembered there was a hospital in the adjacent district with an ambulance and gave her their telephone number. However, the hospital didn’t answer her call, probably because of the early hours of the morning, and she called us again. We gave her telephone numbers of doctors at the hospital but there was no connection. 10 minutes later, she called me, saying, “He was dead.” I didn’t know what to say.
When I told this story to a local staff member coming to work that morning, he said, “The village is located on the opposite side of the river, which doesn’t have any bridges. They can’t go to a hospital without a car to cross the river.” Many villages in Laos still remain devoid of fully developed infrastructure such as roads and bridges. First-aid treatment is only a temporary means before transporting the injured to a hospital. It was an event which made us fully realize roads and cars for transportation to hospitals must be especially established too.

User-friendly learning materials―being comprehensible and helpful to villagers including children

In addition to providing hands-on training on first-aid techniques, we made posters and a song as learning materials for UXO risk education. The posters, song and notebooks were made with collaboration from the Xieng Khuang Branch Office of UXO-Lao, our local partner organization. The materials are being offered by its UXO risk education team as learning materials for UXO risk education. These materials have garnered a good reputation from villagers and staff members in charge of training on the spot, who said, “The song is excellent. It is written not only in Lao but also in local languages such as Hmong and Khmu. It can be sung by anyone and is easy to memorize,” “The pictures on the posters give us very clear massages. We use them when educating children.” In the training, we had VHVs sing and memorize the song while playing it on radio stations as well.
To UXO-Lao, our local partner organization, we provided posters to teach how to prevent UXO-related accidents. We had the education team review the poster and talked together about how to use it in the villages. (June 27th, 2014)
Notebooks are distributed to children after training contain points for users to pay attention to. They urge users to look out for dangerous behaviors in daily life and show how to change behaviors to prevent UXO-related accidents. (June 27th, 2014)

What we have in mind on the completion of our mission

Laotians always take their time and are inclined to think that problems will eventually be resolved. Since Laotians are often able to resolve their issues, we also tend to let them have their own way. Although some cases are better resolved with such attitudes on both sides, other cases don’t. The charm of Laos, Xieng Khuang in particular, is its beautiful green environment, moderate temperature in high altitudes, and comfortable and casual way of life despite daily inconveniences and unmet demands. We also appreciate their warm personalities which reminds us of the good old days in Japan.
In Xieng Khuang, more than 40 years have passed since the war, but the scars remain, threatening people’s lives. It is important to try to prevent further UXO-related accidents. People need to keep in mind what UXOs look like, where they exist and how they should be treated to prevent future accidents and put this knowledge into practice. Nothing is more significant than education to realize this goal. AAR Japan believes it has accomplished its mission in Laos and sincerely hopes that the song, posters and notebooks that were made will continue to assist the communities also into the future.
During training for VHVs, some villagers asked questions to Noriko ANDO. (November 14th, 2012)

【Reporter】 Noriko ANDO, AAR Japan Japan Xieng Khuang Office
After working as a university hospital as a nurse for 10 years, ANDO joined Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) to work in Laos for two years. After coming back to Japan, ANDO continued to work as a nurse for a while before joining AAR Japan Japan in February 2012. Working at Tokyo Headquarters, ANDO assisted activities in Xieng Khuang from October 2012 to June 2014. She is originally from Gifu Prefecture.

Japanese-English translation by Motoko Komai
English editing by Khan Kikkawa

The article on this page has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.