Introduction: SalaamGarage trip to Vietnam.
Most our SalaamGarage Vietnam trip was spent in Quang Tri Province. Quang Tri Province, the southernmost province of what was North Vietnam was where most of the heavy fighting took place during the Vietnam war. In the coming blog entries I will write more about the details, stories and people of this trip. However to introduce where we were and why, I will begin with general information and facts that we picked up along the way. The in-depth stories will come later as I edit and process my photos (and mind).
Why did SalaamGarage go there? I believe now was the ideal time for this trip, acknowledging any parallels of Vietnam’s war legacy with the history the US is currently making through our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like Vietnam, we all may experience residuals of our own history of war and the steps required to heal from those consequences in the future. Also personally, I wanted to learn more about Vietnam, it’s history and culture, the war and where it is today. I was curious. Apparently others were too and a SalaamGarage trip was born.
We collaborated with PeaceTrees Vietnam, a humanitarian non governmental organization (IRS 501-C3) based in Seattle, Washington and operating in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam. Their vision is to create a safe and healthy future for the children of Central Vietnam by working alongside the Vietnamese people to reverse the destructive consequences of war.
Founded in 1995, PeaceTrees became the first US non-governmental organization to be permitted by the Government of Vietnam to support humanitarian mine action, to remove landmines and unexploded ordnance and to provide survivor’s assistance and Mine Risk education.
The focus of the conversation on this trip was UXOs. (from wikipedia) Unexploded ordnance (or UXOs/UXBs, sometimes acronymized as UO) are explosive weapons (bombs, bullets, shells, grenades, land mines, naval mines, etc.) that did not explode when they were employed and still pose a risk of detonation, potentially many decades after they were used or discarded.
Here are some facts from Blaire Burroughs, the executive director of Peacetrees Vietnam:
· 83.8% of Quang Tri Province has been designated as bomb/mine areas
· 64.5% of the communes in Quang Tri have high or very high UXO impact
· 40.3% of all ordnance used in the war was deployed in Quang Tri
· If all this ordnance were spread out uniformly in Quang Tri (which is about the size of King County), it would amount to 140 pounds of ordnance per square meter
· 7000+ individuals have been killed or wounded in Quang Tri by UXO/landmine accidents since the war ended in 1975
· 61% of all victims are younger than 30
· 81.2% of the victims are from rural areas
· The poverty in Quang Tri is directly correlated with the impact of UXO
The group met, interviewed and photographed landmine victims (people who were injured by UXOs) and survivors (those whose families were injured or killed by UXOs), Explosive Ordnance Disposal team (EOD), scrap metal hunters (people who hunt for and sell scrap metal as a living and often uncover UXOs safely, or are injured or killed by UXOs), scrap metal buyers (people who buy scrap metal from the scrap metal hunters), children who are blind as a result of Agent orange, a teacher at a school for the blind who lost her sight after an accident with a UXO.
We also met an extraordinary Vietnamese team from PeaceTrees Vietnam and the Department of Foreign Affairs who traveled with us, helped us ever second of the way and made this trip possible.