Saving Lives Begins With Education

Written by: Saurav Thapa, Programme and Partnership Specialist, UNDP Lao PDR

February 13, 2024

The EORE (Explosive Ordnance Risk Education) teaching children about the dangers of UXOs using puppet shows.

Douangchanh Phommavong, Programme Officer, UXO Lao

In Thakachanh, a quaint village nestled in Boualapha district. The dry January brings a striking transformation as the roads, which are etched into the village landscape become conduits for fine, red dust, frequently stirred into life by passing vehicles. They settle in a thin layer upon the rooftops and trees, colouring the village in hues of rust and terra cotta.

The village is usually vibrant with children. But at mid-day when they go to school, it gives way to a different kind of enthusiasm, that of domesticated pigs who run freely and the sound of nature. 

I take inroads to the heart of the village where I am met by gazes of two men in their contemplative silence. However, as soon as they recognize the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme (UXO Lao) Tee, I am received with friendly smiles. Wide smiles are a regular feature of Khammouane province. 

The older man, composed and solemn, is the Village Chief, Mr. Kaxe Bayvanya (55). The young man is much more cheerful and is a former EORE (Explosive Ordnance Risk Education) volunteer, Mr. Aeng Laseth (31). They both have played crucial roles in saving lives in the village from the dangers of UXOs. 

Chief Kaxe, embodies the resilience of Thakachanh. When he was young, his parents told him about the Indochina war and the dangers of UXO. Therefore, he has always been vigilant. Even in his childhood, he warned his friends about its life-threatening dangers.

Village Chief Kaxe on the establishment of the UXO Lao programme in 1996, said, “It was a new dawn for us”.

Douangchanh Phommavong, Programme Officer, UXO Lao.

Chief Kaxe whose responsibilities extend beyond governance to include cassava farming and cattle rearing also made a point, rather proudly, “Our lands, once fields of fear, are now fields of awareness”.  It is not a hyperbole. Indeed, the village of Thakachanh has stayed clear of any human casualties since 2008 while over 2,400 UXOs have been cleared in the village during the same period. The village has 371 hectares of designated land as Confirmed Hazardous Area (CHA) out of which 98 hectares have been cleared so far. 

Khammouane province is one of the most UXO contaminated province and has one of the highest casualties in Lao PDR. Much of the success in the village, Chief Kaxe attributes to the EORE programme of UXO Lao. 

“Every time they (UXO Lao EORE team) visit, the children are in giggles and so they never forget”, he says. The EORE teams use puppet shows and cinemas, among various other tools, to educate the villagers. They inform not only about the dangers associated with UXOs but also about what to do if anyone happens to find them. 

Chief Kaxe takes it to his heart, that he is the first point of contact when anyone finds UXOs in the village fields. Since the last EORE session in February 2022, the villagers have found over 100 UXOs, particularly the notorious BLU 26, a type of submunition also known as bombies among Lao people. He acts quickly to inform local authorities who in turn contact UXO Lao to request for clearance. This practice is a far cry since 2012 (when National Standards for UXO/Mine Action was institutionalized) when knowledge about UXOs was minimal, and safety measures were non-existent. Chief Kaxe feels pride and relief that no accidents followed these discoveries. 

Moreover, the former EORE village volunteers like Mr. Laseth have become the mouthpiece of the EORE team. The team has been successful in Thakachanh and surrounding villages because of volunteers like him. After all there’s only one UNDP supported EORE team in the entire province. 

On the same trip, I had met this ten-member EORE team 70 kilometres east of the town center. The road was dusty, uneven, and winding across dense jungles and passed through a stretch of the former Ho Chi Minh trail. I had wondered how’d they travel in rainy season in such conditions. Despite their absence for several months and even years in the same location where EORE team gave the trainings, EORE village volunteers have been reinforcing their life saving messages. 

Mr. Laseth began his journey with UXO Lao in 2005. He is equipped with invaluable knowledge, which he generously shares with people he meets almost every day. For a decade with EORE team, he had multiple roles. He served as an interpreter in ethnic communities and assisted in logistical tasks, such as setting up equipment during the training. “Saving lives begins with education”, he says solemnly, in stark contrast to his otherwise contagious mirth.   

Mr. Laseth (in blue Chelsea jersey) shares about his volunteering journey and says that he still feels like a part of the EORE team.

Douangchanh Phommavong, Programme Officer, UXO Lao

Today, Mr. Laseth leads a life centered around agriculture, cultivating cassava and rice. As a father of three young children, he is always on his toes, especially as he is aware that UXO related accidents are common among curious and unsuspecting children in Lao PDR. “We must repeat the messages of the EORE team time and again. As long as there are UXOs inside the ground and children in our houses- we have no choice”, he says.

Mr. Laseth’s transition from a volunteer to a farmer mirrors the journey of his own village - from a place overshadowed by the remnants of war to a community on the brink of normalcy and safety. 

In the evening, the children play in their village grounds knowing that it is safe to exercise their freedom, but the lurking danger of UXOs is always there. Thakachanh, once shadowed by the legacy of war, is now an example of continued resilience. 

The EORE activities are a part of the project titled “Supporting Effectiveness and Efficiency in UXO Sector to contribute to the achievement of SDG 18 and Safe Path Forward III (2022-2026), which is implemented jointly by the government of Lao PDR and UNDP. The EORE activities in Khammouane are implemented through generous contributions from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg since 2023. These activities have not only educated but empowered communities to protect themselves and their loved ones.


The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and not the United Nations Development Programme.


Reducing the impact of UXO is Lao PDR's own national Sustainable Development Goal. By commiting to Goal 18 as a part of the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Laos holds itself accountable to advancing the reduction of UXO impact and contributing to many other goals at the same time, e.g. Goal 1, Ending Poverty. An integrated approach is crucial for progress across the multiple goals. Learn more about Goal 18 and its targets.