Victoria spent a week in Xieng Khouang province, northern Laos, where the legacy of a conflict that ended nearly 40 years ago still haunts thousands of people.
Presenting a BBC Lifeline appeal that will air on BBC One on Sunday 25 July, Victoria experienced MAG’s lifesaving work first hand, witnessing one of the charity’s all-female teams of technicians destroy 20 deadly cluster munitions found on farmer Va Por Lor’s land. In total MAG discovered 500 of these bombs on his land.
“Va Por told me he, his wife and their nine children live in constant fear of this hidden danger. So much so they’re too scared to walk on much of it and can’t then grow enough food,” Victoria said.
“The noise of the blast MAG set up to destroy some of these bombs was absolutely terrifying.
It was scary.
“I spent all day with the team and what a brilliant, painstaking job they do. They’re really brave,” she added.
During the Vietnam War more than 270 million cluster munitions were dropped on Laos. But up to one third of them failed to detonate and, since 1974, have claimed 12,000 more lives, many of them children.
In 1994 MAG became the first expert explosive ordnance removal charity to begin work in Laos. Since then, MAG has helped transform the lives of thousands of people, returning safe land on which to build homes, grow food and go to school.
In order to understand the vital importance of MAG’s work Victoria also visited a hospital in the town of Phonsavanh where she met 11-year-old Te. Te had been planting vegetables in his garden two weeks before when his spade hit a hidden unexploded cluster bomb.
The blast broke his arm, knocked out his teeth and he had wounds from the shrapnel. But he will survive.
“When I met Te I was struck by the level of injury he had, and it’s shocking to realise that he is actually one of the lucky ones. Most people who fall victim to the bombs are killed,” said Victoria.
“I just hadn’t realised how much the war had affected people in Laos until I came here,” she added.
“The doctors see more than a hundred people with these injuries every year in just this one provincial hospital. It’s really shocking to realise the terrible impact these bombs, which are almost 40 years old, are having on people’s lives even now.”
MAG’s Chief Executive Lou McGrath OBE said: “It’s a real honour that Victoria has given up her time to support MAG’s work. Even though her trip was only short I know it will have given her a good idea of how MAG is making life safer for ordinary people round the world every day. I’m sure that, like me, she will have been struck by the resilience and humour of the people in Laos even in the face of decades of struggle. We are all really excited to see the finished film and are hugely grateful to Victoria and to the BBC for choosing MAG for a Lifeline appeal.”
Photo: Steve Joyce / MAG