Tran Thi Thao is one of the longest-serving staff members with MAG Vietnam. 

Between 1955 and 1975, 15 million tonnes of bombs were dropped on Vietnam, three times the amount used by the allies during the Second World War.

After being ravaged by conflict, the country has been left with the grim remnants of a war which have continued to kill and maim tens of thousands of people since it ended.

Thao joined MAG in 2000. As a deminer, she helped clear communities across the country of these deadly weapons.

An estimated 10 per cent of the bombs did not detonate and one-fifth of the country is littered with these explosive weapons lying dormant but always posing a deadly risk.

Vietnam is the most contaminated country in the world for unexploded bombs.

Since the end of the war, there have been more than 104,000 casualties involving unexploded bombs and munitions, most of which are children or people of working age.

For the last 20 years, MAG teams have worked tirelessly to remove the threat of these potentially lethal items and educate people about the risks of living in their presence.

After working her way up through the ranks, Thao, 43, now works as a field supervisor with MAG in Vietnam.

Thao (right) checks a strip of land using a large-loop detector

After 20 years, Thao is used to the early mornings. Today, she arrives on-site at 7 am to visit Mine Action Team (MAT) 19; MAG’s first team of all-female deminers in Vietnam.

At the site, she listens to team leader Le Thi Bich Ngoc briefing the group about their working progress.

She reviews the operation site map to make sure it is fully updated and that all of the information is correct.

Satisfied that the map is displaying the correct information, Thao checks a strip of land using a large-loop detector to ensure it is free from unexploded bombs.

She walks towards a nearby pit marked with red pickets and string and surrounded by sand bags.

In this area there is a cluster bomblet and a grenade.

As the cluster bomb is too dangerous to move, both the items must now be destroyed in situ at the end of the working day.  

A cluster bomb and grenade found and marked on the site

Thao then spends 30 minutes providing an on-site refresher course about using hand-held detectors – reminding the team about how to use the equipment properly. These safety sessions are delivered once a week.

Early in the afternoon, Thao travels to village 8 in the Trieu Van commune, Trieu Phong district, where she visits another team; MAT 4.

Thao delivers a weekly training session on the loop detector

During the site visit, a team member comes to inform her that a cluster bomblet has been found on the surface of a nearby sand dune. 

The dangerous item is again marked and listed to be detonated later. 

On the way back, Thao sees Tran Van Hung, 57, who is clearing scrubs on his melon plantation.

Hung has a hectare of land which has just been completely cleared of dangerous ordnance by MAG.

He tells Thao: “My plot of land used to be contaminated with numerous unexploded ordnance, particularly cluster bomblets. 

“Before MAG cleared the land, everyone in my family was very scared whenever we worked here. Now we feel relieved and confident to cultivate.”

Tran Van Hung clears scrub on his melon plantation

Thao is happy to hear this. She says: “Working for MAG has been a great opportunity for me to contribute to making my homeland free from unexploded munitions so that my family, my relatives and communities are safe to live and work. 

“MAG has also created jobs for local people, like for me and for my husband. I am so happy working for MAG”.