Peace-loving Laotian artisans are using their creative abilities to eradicate the torment of a secret war that left their countryside littered with over 200 million tons of bombs. One out of three bombs dropped by the mid-1970s failed to explode. Rural Laotians risk their lives to remove these dangerous unexploded ordinances (UXOs), and then melt those symbols of destruction down, transforming them into tangible signs of peace in the form of beautiful fair trade jewelry.
Laos is known as the most bombed country more per capita in the world because of the Vietnam-era shelling activity. Between 1964 and 1973, one B52 bomb load equivalent fell on their country every eight minutes, 24 hours per day for nine years. As if that wasn’t devastating enough, the country continues to suffer because of this violent heritage.
Hidden in playgrounds and farmland and rice paddies, the UXOs pose threats to countless families. The people of Laos live under the constant threat of maiming and death by these UXOs, making it extremely difficult for them to rise above poverty. If a father loses a leg or dies because of a UXO-related injury, the family loses its ability to generate income. In a country where 80% of employment is based in agriculture, which does not generate surplus revenue, the consequences of a UXO accident are severe.
All of this is changing because of a lone Laotian who was inspired to melt bomb scraps into spoons, and then started teaching his neighbors to do the same. Though the scrap war metal industry has been well-established in Laos, the opportunities for turning bombs into hope really opened up when some social-minded entrepreneurs created peaceBOMB to give local artisans access to the worldwide market. Building on the spoon-maker’s inspiration, peaceBOMB founders developed techniques for using UXOs to create bracelets and other fair trade accessories, making them available to an international market through the existing distribution network of ARTICLE22.
The process starts by clearing the bombs from the fields, roadways, and schoolyards. A nonprofit organization with expertise in the safe removal of unexploded ordinances like mines and bombs instructs people living in Laotian villages in the techniques of finding and carefully recovering UXOs using specialized equipment. They then painstakingly disarm each bomb so that it’s safe to handle and disassemble. Pieces such as the stabilization fins of cluster bomb casings, flares, and fuses are recovered to be repurposed as peaceBOMB jewelry.
These artisans then hand carve wood and ash molds for the bracelets, pendants, and other jewelry pieces, carefully engineering each one to meet size and style specifications. The aluminum from the bombs is then melted down in hand-formed earthen kilns that heat the metal until it liquefies and can be poured into the handmade wooden molds.
After a period of cooling, often by burying the molds underground, the artisans remove each piece from the mold and then carefully file down any rough edges. They then hand stamp powerful messages such as Seek Peace, A Lover & A Fighter, Speak, and Remember onto each piece to offer inspiration and create a connection between artisan and future jewelry owner.
Hearts and ARTICLE22 have partnered together to support the artisans who re-purpose these UXOs, paying artisans at least 4x local market rates. The collaboration has resulted in the design of several pieces unique to the Hearts collection of ethical fashion jewelry, each of which supports the innovative work of this hopeful community.
This peaceBOMB jewelry allows consumers to be active participants in the peacemaking process by buying back the bombs. One bracelet generates a donation that covers the cost of clearing 3+ square meters of land. Additional funds are used to fund community projects, such as supplying electricity in communal areas, providing microloans for local family businesses, and much more.
Every time you wear one of these transformative pieces, you’ll be reminded of the tangible benefits your purchase has supported for real families in Laos. Review the entire Hearts-peaceBOMB line at Hearts.com.