Alexandra Bounxouei: “People need to know about the bombs in Laos”Mar 31, 2014
One year after her appointment as the National Goodwill Ambassador for UNDP Lao PDR, Lao singer Alexandra Bounxouei is more committed than ever to spread the word about the deadly legacy of unexploded ordnance in her country and to encourage donors to support the ongoing clearance works.
Alexandra Bounxouei, a 26-year old Lao pop star, was appointed as the first ever Goodwill Ambassador for the UNDP Lao PDR in April 2013. Alexandra was selected for the honorary position to advocate UNDP's human development messages and for the country’s national MDG of reducing the impact of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in particular.
The presence of UXO remains one of the key development challenges in the Southeast Asian country with a population of just over six million, and it is one of the main focus areas for UNDP in Laos. Alexandra was appointed to specifically help UNDP reach out to the country’s youth, who form 50% of the total population.
It may come as surprise to many that in per capita terms, Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world. The extent of country’s UXO problem also may also be unclear for the Lao people themselves: “Before I embarked on this journey as a goodwill ambassador for UNDP, I don’t think I really realized how serious the UXO situation was in my country”, Alexandra confesses.
The landlocked country that borders Vietnam suffered from heavy bombing during the Second Indochina War 1964-1973, leaving the country littered with deadly ordnance that failed to detonate at the time. Unexploded cluster munitions, locally known as ‘bombies’, are a particular problem, continuing to kill and injure people and preventing safe access to land. UXO contamination is slowing down poverty eradication efforts in the country which is hoping to graduate from Least Developed Country -status by 2020.
Alexandra is on a mission to spread awareness: “I want everyone to know about our UXO legacy and help as much as they can”, she says. While a number of donors have supported Lao PDR’s efforts to clear the country of UXO contamination, continued support is needed for ongoing UXO clearance efforts, as well as for supporting the country’s estimated 20,000 UXO survivors. Many of those injured in UXO-related accidents have been left physically and/or psychologically handicapped and unable to provide for themselves or their families.
During her first year of appointment, Alexandra has brought visibility to the UXO issues by attending various events, including a performance in a fundraising concert “Party Against the Bombies”, organised by Handicap International and the Lao Ban Advocates in close collaboration with UNDP and other partners working in the UXO sector, to mark the third anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
During her recent visit to Xieng Khuang in Northeast Laos, one of the most heavily UXO-affected areas in the country, she learnt first-hand about the challenges of living in contaminated areas. “This trip was an ultimate experience for me”, she reflected afterwards, deeply moved by the tragic stories of the UXO survivors she had met. However, visiting a team of female deminers responsible for clearance work also made her see the empowering side of their work: “It was great to see the local women carrying out the highly skilled and technical job of demining. I was very impressed. What they are doing for our country makes them real heroines!”
Alexandra was born in 1987 to a musical family by a Bulgarian mother and a Lao Father. She grew up in the Lao capital Vientiane and began her singing career at an early age, releasing her debut album when she was just 16. She is also well known for acting in a popular drama series in Thailand. Alexandra has been actively engaged in educational projects for development organizations and created her own foundation for children with the Down syndrome. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Media Design at Keio University, Japan, and has recently signed an international record deal.