Make Spoons Not War!

From bombs to peace bracelets and everyday utensils: Saoban's recycled bomb products

According to the Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE), Lao PDR is the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world. From 1963-1973, Laos became an unwitting pawn during the Second Indochinese War. During this time, the US Air Force dropped a planeload of cluster bombs every eight minutes for nine consecutive years.

During the aftermath of the war, villagers began to collect, sell, or use scrap metal from the bombs as a means to generate income. Villagers put the metal to creative uses, as seen in monuments, building materials and household items.

Saoban works with Ban Naphia, among several others, in Xieng Khouang Province.  Ban Naphia is a traditional Lao Pouan village of 60 households. Right after the war, villagers began gathering aluminum from exploded bombs and made it into spoons. The villagers were taught this skill by a family that relocated to Ban Naphia from Houaphan Province, further north. In the early days, five families produced the recycled bomb spoons. Today, there are approximately 13 families producing more that 150,000 spoons per year from war and non-war scrap aluminum. Production has expanded to include bracelets, earrings, pendants and souvenir items, such as key chains.

It is important to note that of all the bombs dropped in Laos, 30% did not explode. Unexploded ordnance (UXO) continues to pose a significant threat to the safety of villagers in rural Lao. In their search for scrap metal, many villagers encounter UXO and suffer catastrophic injuries.

Saoban is committed to promoting safe gathering practices in villages, including supporting the efforts of Swiss NGO Helvetas to improve livelihood opportunities in Ban Naphia. Based on the interest in spoon making in Ban Naphia and nearby villages, Helvetas has embarked on a project to make recycled bomb production safer and more efficient.

Specifically, they support development strategies to:

  1. Improve kiln efficiency to reduce wood consumption

  2. Diversify the range of recycled bomb products and assist with market development

  3. Build a safe aluminum supply chain by providing villagers training on proper gathering techniques, and supporting the work of professional UXO clearing agencies

UXO in Laos by numbers

  • Over 2 million tons of ordnance were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973
  • Up to 30% failed to detonate
  • Approximately 78 million Unexploded Ordnances (UXOs) remain in Laos
  • 17 provinces of Laos suffer from UXO contamination
  • Approximately 25% of villages in Laos are contaminated with UXOs
  • Over 50,000 people have been killed or injured in UXO accidents between 1964 and 2008
  • UXOs continue to kill or injure 300 people each year