A young man from central Vietnam who lost three of his limbs and vision to unexploded ordnance left from the U.S. war in Vietnam when he was ten years old is now actively working to protect others from the same fate.
Ho Van Lai, 27, from Cua Viet Town in Quang Tri Province, has come a long way since sustaining multiple serious injuries because of unexploded ordnance (UXO) 17 years ago.
His injuries, which affect 86 percent of his body, include missing both legs and his right arm, as well as seriously impaired vision in both eyes.
“I was a UXO victim because of a lack of understanding. That’s why I’m here to make sure none of you will suffer as I do,” Lai said during one of his regular education sessions with school students, initiated by a group called ‘Nguoi Van Dong’ (Activists).
The young man used his left hand, which has only four fingers left, to roll up his trousers and reveal his prosthetic legs.
He then recalled his devastating accident, which occurred on a morning in June 2000 while he was playing around with three cousins near his home.
The then 10-year-old came across what were several cluster bombs buried in some sand.
Out of curiosity, he smashed one to see what was inside, and the ordnance went off without warning.
When Lai regained consciousness a few days later in the hospital, he was devastated to discover he had lost his limbs, vision and two of his cousins in the explosion.
Struggling to overcome extreme physical agony, his mental anguish as a severely disabled person and recurrent feelings of remorse, he eventually recovered enough to resume his education two years later.
Lai went on to obtain a degree in information technology from a university in nearby Da Nang City.
Upon his graduation, Lai volunteered to join ‘Nguoi Van Dong,’ founded in 2012 to connect UXO victims and their relatives in Quang Tri, raise awareness of the unexploded ordnance problem and heal the wounds of war.
Six group members, all UXO victims and their relatives, including Pham Quy Thi, have traveled throughout the province to hold talks with residents.
Thi, in his early 60s, who lost his hand in an explosion 40 years ago, is now an international ambassador who has traveled to 30 countries around the world to give lectures and raise awareness of the consequences of explosive remnants from the U.S. war in Vietnam, and campaign against the production, sale and storage of explosives.
Like other group members, Lai is happy that his efforts are helping his neighbors and countrymen.
“I trembled uncontrollably and was at a loss for words on my first public speaking occasion. It was the children’s encouragement that helped me regain my confidence,” he recalled.
“The education sessions have now become heart-to-heart,” Lai said.
Nguyen Thanh Phu, a senior member of Renew, an unexploded ordnance removal initiative in Quang Tri, who has frequently worked alongside Nguoi Van Dong volunteers, was filled with admiration for Lai’s persistence.
“He is not only a great educator, but also inspires the younger generation with his touching life story,” Phu remarked.
Quang Tri was one of the most heavily bombed regions in Vietnam during the U.S. military campaign, which came to an end in 1975.
Over the past 20 years, with funding from the U.S. government, NGOs have helped clear 8,399 hectares of land in Quang Tri and safely removed and destroyed 556,448 UXOs.
Since the war ended in 1975, the Vietnamese government has spent US$80-100 million resolving UXOs every year and has received support from both domestic and international organizations.
According to the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense, there are still 800,000 tons of explosive material left to be cleared, which will take the country 300 years.
Since 1975, unexploded bombs, landmines, and other weapons have killed more than 40,000 people and maimed about 60,000 others in Vietnam.