A total of 8 cluster munitions survivors (some with family members to aid them) arrived in Vientiane on Sunday night after many hours of traveling to reach the capital. The survivors come from various districts and provinces of the most contaminated cluster munitions areas of Lao PDR. These survivors were joined by campaigners from other countries including Vietnam and Cambodia who will share their experiences with the new Ban Advocates. Mr. Thi, together with Linh his interpreter arrived from Vietnam, and Reth, arrived from Cambodia. We all met at the hotel on Sunday night ready for a week long workshop in Vientiane.
The workshop will run from the 11th to 15th January and is aimed to bring together for the first time ever a group of Laos survivors who will join the Ban Advocate initiative. During the workshop they will learn about the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), the victim assistance provisions under the Convention and how they can be heard in the global campaign to ban these deadly weapons. The group will also learn that their country will host the First Meeting of State Parties in 2010 and consider how they can play a role during this vitally important meeting. Further during the workshop the group will discuss how they can advocate for the implementation of the treaty in their own country where the needs of victims are still so huge.
One challenge during the week will be for Lao Ban Advocates to learn how to use their voices by telling their personal stories and delivering their messages. There is still an urgent need to raise awareness about the needs of victims so the Laos people will have a better understanding of victim needs and the need for their government to develop victim assistance national action plans.
On Monday morning there was an official opening ceremony at the National Rehabilitation Center (the venue for the workshop). Dr. Malinga, the Director of the National Regulatory Authority, welcomed the Ban Advocates reinforcing their role and emphasizing the need of the government to focus on victim assistance provisions.
Mr. Luc Delneuville, The Director of Programs of Handicap International Belgium in Laos remarked that this is the first time such a workshop has been held in Laos. He praised the strength of the group who will join the Ban Advocate campaign and thanked the government for their strong support of this workshop. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Somlit officially opened the workshop.
This first day was a great opportunity to get to know each other with a sightseeing tour of the main city sites. For many of the Advocates this was the first time they had every visited their capital city. We were all very excited about the week ahead and had great fun getting to know each other.