45-year-old Vo Thanh Chung planned to pour concrete for the foundation of his new home in Cam Lo Village of Thanh An Commune, Cam Lo District on Wednesday last week. However, after a worker found a wartime munition in one of the foundation posts, Chung immediately told his men to stop working and made an emergency call to the hotline of Quang Tri’s Mine Action Center (QTMAC) asking for urgent assistance.
The tasking information was quickly relayed from the QTMAC dispatcher to Project RENEW’s all-women emergency response team leader Trinh Thi Hong Tham, who talked with Mr. Chung over her mobile phone and assured him that her team would head to the site and deal with the danger.
Upon arrival at the construction site of Mr. Chung’s house, the team found a munition that was partly exposed at the depth of half a meter. After investigating the explosive, Team Leader Tham concluded that it was a 105mm illuminating projectile without a fuse. She informed Mr. Chung that the munition was safe to move, so she and her team would remove the projectile and transport it to the central demolition for disposal.
Surprised to see an all-women team respond to his emergency call, Mr. Chung said he was impressed. He thanked the team for their timely intervention, which permitted him to complete his plan to pour the concrete for his new home’s foundation by the end of that day without interruption.
Since December 2021, thanks to funding from Friends of Project RENEW, a U.S.-based non-profit organization and other generous donors, Project RENEW has been able to add this all-women emergency response team – the first in Vietnam – to the existing survey and clearance operations. This women’s team receives technical support from NPA. Among the contributors is David Wells, a U.S. Army adviser in Vietnam in 1969-70, an early supporter of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which later helped create RENEW. Another is Ray Wilkinson, a U.S. Marine Corps combat correspondent in Quang Tri in 1968, who came back to teach English voluntarily for Dong Ha high school students in 2016. Before the Covid-19 outbreak, Wilkinson taught English for the managerial and field staff of Project RENEW.
Consisting of six members, the all-women team is responsible for responding to discoveries of explosive ordnance called in to the hotline number. In addition, the team conducts disposal of explosive ordnance found by technical survey teams of RENEW/NPA.
So far the team has conducted 166 explosive ordnance disposal tasks, safely destroying 753 dangerous munitions of different types since they were deployed on the ground.
Ms. Tham, the team leader, is a native of Gio Linh District. She joined RENEW/NPA in 2015. Tham had worked with many different teams at RENEW/NPA before she was promoted to lead this all-women emergency response team last December. This 32-year-old mother has an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Level 2 certification issued by Norwegian People’s Aid Vietnam.
“As a kid, I witnessed a neighbor in my village who was killed after his hoe hit a cluster munition when he was working his land,” Tham said. “He left behind his wife and two small children. Those images stayed with me, and encouraged me to join RENEW/NPA and contribute to getting rid of the threats posed by explosive ordnance to fellow villagers.”
Friends of Project RENEW is an active, all-volunteer U.S. organization that works closely with Project RENEW/NPA to advance our work in Quang Tri and other provinces in Vietnam.
Project RENEW was established in 2001 as a joint effort between the government of Quang Tri Province and interested INGOs to “restore the environment and neutralize the effects of the war”. RENEW is the only comprehensive mine action organization in Vietnam that integrates survey and clearance, risk education, and victim assistance into a coordinated program of action.