by Síle Sammon
My name is Síle Sammon and I have been working with MAG since September 2011 as a Media and Communications Intern. After starting with MAG Cambodia I am now based in Vientiane with MAG Laos. (Here’s me testing the weight of a detector).
Viewing operations for the first time in Laos was a big change from Cambodia. While Cambodia is mainly contaminated with landmines, Laos is affected by cluster bombs. This is as a result of 2 million tons of ordnance being dropped on the country between 1955-1975, 30 per cent of which did not detonate and still litters many parts of the Laos countryside.
Since moving to Laos I have been to sites that have been cleared by MAG, such as at the UNESCO-listed Plain of Jars. I can’t help but notice the differences that arise between landmine and cluster munition clearance. Walking onto the clearance site was interesting as, unlike Cambodia, you are not wearing a helmet or PPE (personal protective equipment) which can often impede technicians when carrying out visual clearance. However one thing remains consistent- the high level of dedication when clearing, ensuring that people will have safe land that they can access and farm.
One of my main tasks as an intern with the MAG Laos programme is overseeing the updating of the visitor information centre in Phonsavanh, Xieng Khouang Province. I completed my first journey up there a few weeks ago. It takes 9-10 hours in total, taking into account stopping for food, but the scenery is amazing, passing right through the mountains to a province that even has pine trees, which I was not expecting to see. I have also found that long car journeys are an effective way of learning a new language and I have started trying to learn a few phrases of Laotian. I will be travelling up again soon to see how the visitor centre is progressing so I’m hoping the time spent travelling up there will be another chance to improve on language skills.
What I have gained from working with MAG is a deep respect for all the operational and community liaison teams that go out every day in all types of weather to carry out extremely challenging work. I have one more month left with MAG Lao and already I have been made to feel so welcome. My experience with MAG has been so valuable and has really made me aware of the problems faced by people with regards to landmine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination. I have worked with some amazing people, and some great characters both from both programmes and I will continue to admire them for the work they do.