Peangphet smiles sweetly at her two young daughters, reminding them to sit quietly while she chats with the strangers across the table. She gently retrieves them after they wander off to climb on the bridge at the COPE Visitor Centre. She calms them as they fidget, forgives them when they interrupt, and embraces them when they crawl onto her lap. Youthful and radiant, Peangphet is devoted to the girls, her love apparent in every gesture and expression, the universal language of motherhood.
Peangphet was not fortunate enough to experience such warmth and nurturing during her own childhood. Orphaned as a young girl, she was looked after by cousins in rural Oudomxay Province where they were too poor to send her to school. She contracted leprosy, but medical care was too costly, so she was treated with Lao traditional herbs by the village healer. Eventually, she was sent to Somsonouk Centre, a leprosy treatment facility, for about three years. She spent another year in a clinic that treats skin infections. Believing she was cured, Peangphet returned to her village, married at age fourteen and had the first of her six children. Tragically, her leprosy soon returned, which meant that her leg would have to be amputated.
After the surgery in 2003, Peangphet came to the Center for Medical Rehabilitation, located in Vientiane and supported by COPE, for rehabilitation, physical therapy and the casting and fitting of her prosthesis. She and her baby stayed, free of charge, for eight months while she built up her strength and learned to use her prosthetic leg. It was an extraordinarily difficult time. At just 15 years old, she was adjusting to marriage, motherhood, and the loss of her leg, but COPE and CMR gave her the skills and training she needed to adapt to her new limb. She went home to her village feeling confident that she could care for her son and even work to help to support her young family.
Prosthetic limbs must be replaced every year or two, and Peangphet recently returned to COPE for her sixth prosthesis. Her husband, a porter at the Oudomxay bus station, and her three youngest children, all daughters, ages 4, 3 and 9 months, accompanied her. Their three sons, ages 13, 10 and 9, stayed at home with relativesso they would not miss school. Peangphet still struggles to find work to help support her family, but she is very happy to have a prosthetic leg that allows her to be the best mother she can be. She is deeply grateful to COPE’s donors for providing the funding for her physical therapy and her prosthetic limb, and she wants them to know that now “everything is better.”
To make a donation in honor of Peangphet and to help other Lao people with disabilities, please click here