Our Origin Story

During the U.S. bombing in Laos (1964-1973), an American educational adviser Fred Branfman and his Laotian colleague Bounguen Lampreuserth collected illustrations and narratives from Laotian refugees. Etched in pencil, pens, crayons and markers, these accounts are raw and stark, reflecting the crude events that shaped the reality of these victims’ lives. Only a small circle of individuals knew of the existence of these original drawings.

 

A most unlikely connection led to the reemergence of the over 40-year old drawings. The “recovery” of these illustrations is a story in itself. As told by Channapha Khamvongsa, Legacies of War's Founder:

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Our Founder Channapha Khamvongsa recognizing Bounguen Lampreuserth with Fred Branfman in Laos in 2008

“I was working at the Ford Foundation in the fall of 2003, when I went to Washington D.C. for a meeting with one of Ford’s grantees, the Institute for Policy Studies. In attendance was John Cavanagh, the Executive Director. John asked me what the origin of my name was. When I told him it was Laotian, he immediately exclaimed, “It’s really terrible what happened in the Plain of Jars!” Of course, I was shocked. After all, it seemed most Americans didn’t even know where Laos was, let alone, the specific region of Xieng Khoang, one of the most heavily bombed provinces. So, I inquired furthered about his familiarity with the secret U.S. bombings in Laos. As it turns out, John had worked alongside Fred Branfman in the 1970s at the Indochina Resource Center, a policy think-tank working to stop the bombings in Southeast Asia. When the office closed down, John was cleaning out the office and came across the illustrations. With a sense that the drawings were important, he decided to hold on to them. As John and I came to this remarkable connection, John told me that he had some illustrations drawn by survivors of the U.S. bombings.”

These historical documents had been sitting in John Cavanagh’s D.C. office for the last quarter-century! And in a remarkable twist of fate, John met a Laotian-American decades after the war and in a context far from the Vietnam War-era. In spring 2004, John turned over the illustrations to Channapha, with the hopes that she would, “do something with them.” And hence, began Legacies of War.

Creating Lasting Change

In 2004, Channapha Khamvongsa founded Legacies of War, a nonprofit organization fiscally sponsored by NEO Philanthropy, dedicated to bringing attention to UXO awareness, education, and removal in Laos. Channapha's tireless efforts helped to trailblaze a new path of hope for Laos and Americans. Six years later in 2010, Channapha spoke in front of the House of RepresentativesSubcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment, within the Committee on Foreign Affairs, addressing the need for increased funding for the removal of UXO in Laos. This was the first congressional hearing addressing UXO in Laos with a Lao-American leader testifying in front of Congress.

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President Barack Obama concludes his remarks with a traditional greeting at the Lao National Cultural Hall in Vientiane, Laos, September 6, 2016.

Photo courtesy of the Barack Obama Presidential Library

In September 2016

 Legacies of War's efforts were directly acknowledged by President Obama during a visit to Laos, the first such visit by a U.S. President.

During a speech at the Lao National Cultural Hall, Obama remarked that "for years, she urged the United States to do more to help remove unexploded bombs here in Laos.

 

"There are many, many problems in this world that might not be able to be solved in a lifetime,' she's said, but this is one we can fix. So, Channapha, we thank you for working to fix this problem."

President Obama became the first sitting U.S. President in history to visit the country of Laos, delivering remarks where he emphasized the "moral obligation" of the U.S. the help Laos heal from the after-effects of the wars of the 1960s and 1970s.