Laos is a landlocked country surrounded by Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, China and Myanmar. Most of the country is undeveloped and remains covered with forest and mountains.
Between 1964 and 1973, Laos suffered heavy bombings, in what is other words known as "America's Secret War". As part of America’s strategy against communism, American air force dropped an average of one attack every eight minutes for nine years, making Laos the most heavily bombed country in history per capita. This resulted in a tenth of the countries population being killed on top of tens of thousands of more accidental deaths and injuries, which continue to this day. With millions of unexploded ordnance (UXO) still buried deep in the soil and scattered across the country, the Laotian people remain vulnerable and at risk. To date, less then one percent of the bombs have been removed.
To this day, Laos remains one of the poorest nations in the world and one of the few remaining one-party communist states.
Its a rough road entering Ban Naphia, a small village in one of the most heavily bombed provinces in Laos. Many of the families in this village, which only has 42 homes, are artisans who have learned the craft of transforming recycled war aluminum into something beautiful. A Million Elephants works with 2 families in the village, providing them with a secondary income after the rice harvest season.
Some of the UXO found in Laos. The small size of many of the bomblets used during the Secret War make it easy for the local children to mistake as toys, resulting in serious and fatal injuries.
Earthen kilns are found in many of the artisans backyards. They use homemade wooden molds to create new products from the recycled aluminum war scrap metal.
An artisan weaves a table runner using a traditional wooden loom. A simple pattern can take a skilled weaver a full week to complete, whereas a more complex pattern can take months. When weavers receive fair value for their work, they are able to continue practicing the skills passed down from older generations and prevent the endangered weaving techniques from being lost.
A full-time artisan is able to financially support his whole family when they receive fair wages and safe environments to work in. A MILLION ELEPHANTS donates 10% of profits annually to a NGO in Laos.