The project’s core team is made up of young, educated, and highly committed Vietnamese staff who live in Quang Tri province, whose families have experienced the suffering of war, and who live with the threat of Explosive Remnants of Wars (ERWs) every day. Quang Tri residents comprise Project RENEW’s management staff. They design, implement, and monitor activities to be sure they meet the needs of their fellow citizens. They understand Vietnamese culture and traditions, local laws and regulations, and how to take the initiative and get things done. Coordination Manager of Project RENEW Nguyen Hieu Trung gives an overview of the program:
“Project RENEW is a cooperation program of the Quang Tri province People’s Committee and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, a US non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the problem of explosives. Established in 2001 our project has received strong support and appreciation from the local people and government as well as international organizations including Irish Embassy in Vietnam, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the U.S. Department of State and many others.”
Trung elaborates on the program’s priorities:
“Our priority is cleaning up cluster munitions and other Explosive Remnants of Wars (ERWs) that litter the countryside. Other interventions are victim assistance and risk education for children and adults – safety awareness – which has helped reduce bomb accidents over the years. Mine Risk Education is very important task, so the people will know how to protect themselves and protect their families and neighbors from ERW. And they become part of the solution, by pinpointing locations of bombs for quick response from our teams.”
Project RENEW combines local Vietnamese resources with top-quality technical expertise shared by international partner organizations who bring in highly skilled advisors with extensive field experience from around the globe. The combination of local human resources and outstanding international technical assistance has helped Project RENEW build a foundation of professionalism, quality, and sustainability in its operations.
In 2008, Project RENEW implemented its Prosthetics and Orthotics (P&O) Mobile Outreach Program to assist persons with disabilities as well as those affected by Agent Orange/dioxin. Mr Ngo Xuan Hien, Development and Communications Manager of Project RENEW says more than 2,000 amputees in Quang Tri province have been fitted with prostheses and other assistive devices to restore their mobility.
“Project RENEW has established a mobile outreach program to provide prostheses and education to those injured by explosive remnants of war in the remote communities of Vietnam. We deliver rehabilitation services to persons with disabilities. Our team travels in a van equipped with tools and equipment necessary to conduct on-site examinations to cast, fit and adjust custom prostheses, ensuring that amputees and other mobility-impaired children and adults can function comfortably with basic quality and low-cost prostheses and assistive devices. Prostheses for adults should be replaced every three years but for children prostheses should be replaced every year because the children grow fast. This is the challenge for us and fortunately we have received great support of the Irish embassy in Vietnam for this program.
|Mr Ngo Xuan Hien, Development and Communications Manager of Project RENEW (R)
According to Mr Hien, one of the most important missions of project RENEW is to assist disabled families with one or more bomb accident survivors by providing them with vocational training and loans to improve their livelihood:
“More than 5,000 bomb accident survivors live very difficult lives so our project’s target is to help as many people as possible to have a stable income. Project RENEW has helped more than 800 families with people with disabilities and war victims to develop their household economies by growing mushrooms, making incense, brooms and toothpicks for sale. The income is not much but it is very helpful especially for the visually-impaired people who can earn about 35 USD per month from making incense.
Ho Van Lai, 31, a bomb survivor, is now a key staff member at Project RENEW’s Explosive Ordnance Risk Education program funded by Irish Aid. Lai shared a touching story about his accident when he was only ten years old:
“In June of 2000, myself and three of my cousins went out to play in the sand dunes about five hundred meters from my house, near the beach. We stumbled across some strange objects in the sand, about the size of tennis balls. Curious, and not knowing that they were dangerous cluster bombs, I picked up several and began to knock them against each other as my cousins looked on. There was a violent explosion. The blast killed two of my cousins and severely wounded the other. I lost both legs, my right arm was severed, my left hand was mauled by the blast, and I was blinded in one eye. The high-velocity detonation exploded hundreds of pieces of shrapnel in all directions, ripping into 86% of my body. I was not expected to live.
|Ho Van Lai takes a break at a school where he is teaching explosive ordnance safety to students, Cam Lo, 20 March 2021. (Photo by Hien Ngo, Project RENEW)
Miraculously, Lai survived. And then he began the slow, painful journey of medical surgeries, post-op treatment, and rehabilitation regimens to try to recover some function after the tragic accident. Lai said:
“I tried very hard to get back to normal, attending Dong Ha specialized school for disabled children until I was finally able to return to public schools. Eventually, I passed my entrance exams and enrolled at the Da Nang Polytechnic University. However, my severe disabilities seriously limited what I could do so after two years attending university, I returned home. During that time, my dream was to become a coordinator of project RENEW to tell others, especially children about my accident, what life became for me as a cluster bomb survivor. My dream has come true as in 2017 I was fitted with double prostheses by Project RENEW and given a chance to become a project coordinator. Despite these severe hardships, I never gave up. I was determined to overcome barriers caused by my disability, to stand up for myself and other persons with disabilities.”
|Ho Van Lai is being examined and measured the stump to prepare cast for refurbishing prosthesis during a working visit of Project RENEW’s Prosthetics and Orthotics Mobile Outreach Program, Dong Ha, 29 March 2018. (Photo by Toan Dang, Project RENEW)
Lai now conducts risk education sessions organized by Project RENEW in the Mine Action Visitor Center. He travels to local schools to raise awareness of explosive ordnance risks, he joins in village events and other community functions to share safe behavior guidance with the local people there – especially the children. Lai warns them to never touch unexploded ordnance, or any strange object, and to report their suspicions to parents and teachers.
Lai’s efforts and his contributions go beyond story telling. Lai is a living lesson, an inspiration, a powerful communicator who raises risk education and disability awareness education to new levels. Lai said:
Please value your full body as you were born with two legs, two arms, and two eyes, but if somehow you have accident and loose some body parts like me, never give up, you still have a chance to stand up and follow your dreams. Even if when you are a person with disabilities you still can work, contribute to society and live a meaningful life like I do.”
Having Lai, a bomb survivor working a key staff member, Project RENEW hopes that he will inspire others to keep moving forward and join hands to make this world free from unexploded ordnance.