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UXO Sculpture Completes Rehab Visitor Centre

(Vientiane Times)

The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) visitor centre in Vientiane received a sculpture made almost entirely of unexploded ordnance (UXO) on Tuesday.

The artwork weighs nearly half a tonne and features a mother and child running in terror. It cost about US$2000 to make and was paid for entirely by an individual benefactor.

Located at the entrance to the centre, the sculpture will have a platform built around the base to finish it off.

“It’s a very powerful statement,” said COPE Project Coordinator Jo Pereira. “The platform will rise from rubble and bombs, showing the resilience of people and how they’ve rebuilt the country after all those years of war.

” The sculpture was designed by COPE staff and officials, and was created by Anousone ‘Ford’, an artist who works with metal.

“He’s very talented,” said Ms Pereira.

She explained they had also worked with him on the centre’s signature exhibit of a cluster bomb crater, which features on the organisation’s flyers, as well as the ‘prosthetic-leg furniture’ in their office.

The COPE visitor centre has been open to the public since February, but has yet to be opened officially.

Ms Pereira said they had been waiting for the anival of the sculpture. She added that she expected the centre’s official opening ceremony to take place in the next few weeks. Visitors wouldn’t have to wait until then to see the piece, however.

“It’s here to be looked at,” she said.

The centre features numerous exhibits, such as a typical villager’s house, as well as photography and video documentaries. Together they explain the effects of UXO on the lives of individuals, how artificial limbs are manufactured and the rehabilitation process.

Ms Pereira explained that the main aim of the centre was to showcase the work of the rehabilitation staff.

COPE deals with victim assistance rather than clearance and education. They work with the National Rehabilitation Centre in Vientiane to provide artificial limbs, limb support devices, walking aids and wheelchairs.

The limbs are made on site, an approach which is many times cheaper than importing them from developed countries. Artificial limbs and mobility devices are provided free of charge for those who cannot afford to pay for them. COPE currently serves around 1,500 patients a year.

The visitor centre is on Khou Vieng Road, 500 metres from the morning market, and is part of the National Rehabilitation Centre. The centre is open 9am-4pm Monday to Friday and entrance is free. There is a small attached cafe, and a shop where you can purchase items in support of COPE or make donations.

UXO injury is currently the most common reason people in Laos need an artificial limb. Road accidents are second and leprosy third. In rural communities it is tempting for families to hunt for and disarm UXO in order to sell the metal for scrap, which can lead to injury or death.

Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita anywhere in the world. The Indochina War ended in 1975 but millions of pieces of UXO still litter the country and new casualties arising from UX0- related accidents continue to occur.

21 Monday June 16, 2008