The Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise, better known as COPE, is a venture that shows how the country of Laos helps amputees. COPE works hand in hand with Vientiane’s Rehabilitation Centre when they opened a plush exhibition space known as the COPE Visitor Centre in August of 2008.
The Centre is wholly dedicated to amputees, many of whom tragically lost their limbs in unexploded bombs left over from the massive U.S bombing camps during 1964-1973. During this time, the Americans dropped more bombs in Laos than there were in Europe during World War II.
Upon entering the centre, a sculpture that was created from 500 kilograms of metal from bomb casings can be seen. The sculpture is dedicated to all those who were injured, those who lost their lives and to their loved ones.
The initial part of the center is a single exhibition room that explains everything about UXO or unexploded ordinance in the country. Historical details as well as examples of the types of bombs used are all seen here including a recreation of a clustered bomb in the middle of a flight. The following section then explains the dangers these buried UXO bomb possess. From farmers plowing at their fields to children who mistake the bombs for toys, the exhibit explains how many parts of the country are still exposed to such threats.
On a different note, many Laotians are buying Vietnamese metal detectors to actively search for bomb metals. They then sell these to Vietnamese scrap metal dealers in turn for money. The problem is, if such metals seekers find a good chunk of bomb metal, there is a good chance that it still wrapped in high levels of explosives, posing a great threat to its surrounding areas. The center clearly shows such hazards with a display of an actual scrap metal haul collected from all around the city.
Spread around the centre are exhibitions of case studies of people who were treated by COPE. Many bomb-awareness posters mostly aimed at children are also abundant in the center. Most often than not, children are the ones who do not realize the dangers of such UXOs.
COPE does not only take care of bomb-injured people, but they also take care of people with deformities that result from leprosy or club foot. Many of these were also victims of road accidents. Another exhibit shows how the center constructs prosthetic limbs for patients. The display shows the various stages in the manufacture of such prosthetics as well as how the patients get accustomed to their new legs. In addition to that, there is also a display of a variety of home-made legs that were used by people before learning about the COPE project.
The COPE Visitor Centre is found a little out of town along the Th Khu Bieng. It goes past the Talat Sao Bus Station, further down the water park complex and is found just opposite the Green Park Hotel. Admission is free but buying something from their gift shop is highly recommended as proceeds are used to sustain the center. COPE is a great example of how Lao people continue to help their fellow countrymen, so as a tourist, it may be a good gesture to help these people out by visiting the center as well.