COPE Patients ~ Ta's Story
Ta lives in Khammouane Province in Southern Laos. He has seven children. Ta is a victim of Unexploded Ordinance (UXO). His story demonstrates the ongoing dangers and impact of UXO contamination in Lao PDR.
Ta knew that it was dangerous to handle UXOs. He had always resisted the temptation to collect bombs and rockets to either sell as scrap metal or harvest their explosive materials. But one day, as Ta studied a corroded bomblet, he slowly convinced himself that it posed little danger.
The badly weathered casing was partly open. Ta could clearly see that the bomb's two halves were slightly separated from one another. Bomblets sometimes split as they age and corrode; when they do the bomblet looks as if it is smiling. Of course, from a different angle that smile turns into a scowl or smirk. The cracked casing was misleading. It didn't indicate a safe bomblet. With detonator and explosive intact the bomb still possessed the power to maim or kill.
When Ta inspected the bombie he envisioned opening the bomb, removing its 90 grams of TNT and using its explosives for fishing. He had seen other men light a fuse, drop a bomb into a pond, wait for the boom, and then skim stunned fish off the surface. Ta just couldn't shake visions of himself proudly carrying a basket of fish into the market. "If I weren't poor, I never would have touched that bombie. It's just that I thought I could sell fish for money."
With these proud visions in his head Ta sent his children behind a tree and crawled up to the bombie, positioning a fallen log between himself and the bombie. As he tried to open the bombie with a stick, it exploded. When the bombie exploded Ta's sons ran quickly away from the noise. When they eventually returned, they faced the terrible reality of dealing with their badly injured father who was losing blood from his severe injuries. Ta’s ten year old son took control of the situation, using pieces of cloth to bind his father's wounds and to stop the bleeding. Together, Ta's sons dragged him into the boat they had left on the river and rowed back to the village. Ta's younger boy sat near him; the older rowed. Everybody in the boat cried: Ta in pain; the boys in fear.
People from a nearby village pulled the bloody boat ashore and offered them water and fresh cloth bandages but had nothing to ease Ta's pain. No one in that village owned a car or truck so the villagers piled Ta and the boys into a wagon behind a small tractor and started the long trip to the district hospital. Over bad roads the tractor crept along at walking speed.
It took over six hours from the time of the explosion to reach the hospital. However, staff at the small district hospital had little to offer Ta. There were no surgeons at the hospital and the dispensary had no blood, morphine, oxygen or other supplies to combat shock. As they were unable to assist him, Ta was transferred to a larger hospital another two hours away. In total, it took over nine hours for Ta to receive adequate medical care.
Ta lost both arms and an eye and had to sell all of his families’ livestock; a small herd consisting of five water buffalo, pigs, ducks and chickens, to pay for his medical bills. This immediately drove Ta's entire extended family into deeper poverty. Having lost both of his arms Ta himself describes how over the next 4 years that the loss of his limbs meant that he had to ‘eat like a dog’.
Ta's wife is candid when she speaks of the raw deal that life has dealt her. She says that were she starting life over she would never consider marrying a man with so many disabilities. Now that he is helpless to work in the fields or forage for food she has to do all the work alone that she and her husband once shared. In addition, she is burdened by having to feed, bath, clothe and even toilet the man who was once the family's protector and provider. She shares credit around the family circle and acknowledges the help she gets from her children. "This one", she says pointing to a daughter "helps to dress him". She points to a boy not much beyond toddler age and says, "This one feeds him. He fed him breakfast this morning."
A New Beginning
One day, staff from the UXO clearance company PCL found Ta whilst undertaking community liaison work. The clearance company arranged to bring Ta, along with 4 other people, for rehabilitation at COPE.
Ta received three different types of arms from COPE and is now able to cook and help his family re-build their home. He was provided with one cosmetic arm and one split hook (functional) arm for each side.
Before this Ta was dependent upon the help of his family to do even the most basic tasks.
When wearing the split hook, Ta was amazed at how much he could do for himself. He was absolutely delighted with his new arms, he said that just not to have to ask his children every time he wanted a drink of water would make a huge difference to his life. He had told us that being able to feed himself was a major achievement. Ta is doing well and very happy with his new arms.
From UXO Victim to Ban Advocate
Although he still lives in his village, Ta regularly gives talks at the COPE Visitor Center in Vientiane and also visits schools in cities and villages in Lao PDR to teach young people about the dangers of UXOs.
Ta has also become a global advocate for the banning of cluster munitions. In December 2008, Ta was invited to be a keynote speaker at the Convention on Cluster Munitions Signing Conference in Oslo, Norway. At this conference 94 countries signed up to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which calls for a worldwide ban on the manufacture and use of all cluster munitions. Ta is also a member of Ban Advocates, a group of survivors who have come together to campaign for the ban of cluster munitions and other deadly weapons and has recently participated with other Ban Advocate members in the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, held in Vientiane, Laos in November 2010.
While the services and support Ta received from COPE are priceless to him, they cost COPE only US $175. Fundraise for COPE and help us transform more people’s lives!