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Meet the female squad who clear out Vietnam's unexploded bombs

Meet the female squad who clear out Vietnam's unexploded bombs

Sunday, March 08, 2020, 12:07 GMT+7
Meet the female squad who clear out Vietnam's unexploded bombs
Members of all-female landmines clearance team listen to their captain before their morning work at a bombs and landmines exhibition in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

QUANG TRI, Vietnam -- Two petite women in protective gear walk slowly down an empty field in Vietnam, carrying a large metal detector that clicks and whirrs, searching for unexploded ordnance.

Medic and safety officer Nguyen Thi Ha Lan supervises her teammates, the “landmine girls” as they are known, preparing to detonate a cluster bomb left behind from the war with the United States that ended in 1975.

It is one of many underneath the soil in Quang Tri province, north-central Vietnam.

Once the team is ready to detonate, Lan warns people to clear the area. A siren goes off and then an earthshattering boom.

Members of all-female landmines clearance team search for unexploded ordnances on a field in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Members of all-female landmines clearance team search for unexploded ordnances on a field in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Lan is part of an all-woman explosive disposal team working under project RENEW (Restoring the Environment and Neutralising the Effect of War) — to help rehabilitate more than 60,000 hectares (150,000 acres) of agricultural land.

The area was one of the most heavily bombed of the war and the U.S. Department of Defence estimates that 10 percent of the 80 million tons of munitions used by the U.S army in Vietnam failed to detonate on impact.

Members of all-female landmines clearance team walk past the shells of U.S. military bombs used during Vietnam War, at a bombs and landmines exhibition in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Members of all-female landmines clearance team walk past the shells of U.S. military bombs used during wartime, at a bombs and landmines exhibition in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

For Lan, being part of the 16-member team has a special meaning.

At the age of 12, her mother Hoa lost both legs and an arm due to unexploded ordnance (UXO), while playing in her front yard.

She has spent most of her life in a wheelchair, but still raised two children. Lan’s younger brother works as a deminer in another RENEW team.

Captain Nguyen Thi Thuy of all-female landmines clearance team marks detected zones on a map of Hai Lang district, near a former U.S military base used during Vietnam War, in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Captain Nguyen Thi Thuy of all-female landmines clearance team marks detected zones on a map of Hai Lang district, near a former U.S military base used during wartime in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

“When I look at the kids playing in my front yard, it reminds me of my mother and I used to cry silently inside,” Lan says.

“My job now enables me to have a stable life and the kids are able to play around me on Quang Tri soil and all over Vietnam too.”

In Quang Tri alone, there have been over 8,500 casualties from accidents involving UXO.

Captain Nguyen Thi Thuy of all-female landmines clearance team carries boxes of detonators to destroy unexploded ordnances found on a field in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Captain Nguyen Thi Thuy of all-female landmines clearance team carries boxes of detonators to destroy unexploded ordnances found on a field in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Nearly a third of the victims are children who mistake the round, tennis-ball sized cluster bombs for something to play with.

EOD teams such as Lan’s have helped clear over 5,600 hectares (14,000 acres).

Demining work is grueling and dangerous. Working under the scorching sun and temperatures that can reach 42 degrees Celsius (108 Fahrenheit) means that skins tan no matter how much sunscreen they use.

Tran Hoang Yen, a member of all-female landmines clearance team, detects unexploded ordnances on a field in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Tran Hoang Yen, a member of all-female landmines clearance team, detects unexploded ordnances on a field in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

“It is an honour to wear the uniform of the project everyday, so even if we aren’t able to wear make up or a beautiful dress like everyone else, we all feel proud from the bottom of our hearts,” says Lan. 

Lan also appreciates the camaraderie that the landmine girls share, working in such dangerous conditions.

There are still many explosives to be cleared. In August 2018, more than 1,400 items were found in an underground cache. But Quang Tri had no accidents last year. The plan is to clear the province of unexploded ordnance by 2025.

Members of all-female landmines clearance team get ready for their work on a field in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Members of all-female landmines clearance team get ready for their work on a field in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Hoang Thi Hoa, who lost both legs and an arm due to unexploded ordnance (UXO) during the Vietnam War, is assisted by her daughter Nguyen Thi Ha Lan, a member of all-female landmines clearance team, at their house in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Hoang Thi Hoa, who lost both legs and an arm due to unexploded ordnance (UXO) during wartime, is assisted by her daughter Nguyen Thi Ha Lan, a member of all-female landmines clearance team, at their house in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Hoang Thi Hoa, who lost both legs and an arm due to unexploded ordnance (UXO) during the Vietnam War, sits on a bed next to her prosthetics at her house in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Hoang Thi Hoa, who lost both legs and an arm due to unexploded ordnance (UXO) during wartime, sits on a bed next to her prosthetics at her house in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Members of all-female landmines clearance team look at a sample of B-bomb at a bombs and landmines exhibition in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Members of all-female landmines clearance team look at a sample of B-bomb at a bombs and landmines exhibition in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

A member of all-female landmines clearance team prepares equipment for their work on a field in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

A member of all-female landmines clearance team prepares equipment for their work on a field in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Hoang Thi Hoa (L), who lost both legs and an arm due to unexploded ordnance (UXO) during the Vietnam War, and her daughter Nguyen Thi Ha Lan, a member of all-female landmines clearance team, talk at their house in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Hoang Thi Hoa (L), who lost both legs and an arm due to unexploded ordnance (UXO) during wartime, and her daughter Nguyen Thi Ha Lan, a member of all-female landmines clearance team, talk at their house in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Members of all-female landmines clearance team sit under the shadow of a tree for their lunch on a field in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Members of all-female landmines clearance team sit under the shadow of a tree for their lunch on a field in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Shells of U.S. bombs used during Vietnam War are displayed at a bombs and landmines exhibition in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Shells of U.S. bombs used during wartime are displayed at a bombs and landmines exhibition in Quang Tri province, Vietnam March 4, 2020. Picture taken March 4, 2020. Photo: Reuters

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