Today is International Youth Day 2021, and this year's celebration recognises young people working in agriculture and for a better future for humans and the planet.

MAG works with women, girls, boys and men affected by conflict across the world. Daily we see how landmines, unexploded bombs and other explosive remnants of war prevent communities from farming their land.

Ms Phitsamai is from Laos, a country still suffering the deadly legacy of a conflict that ended almost half a century ago.

Ms Phitsamai balances school and working her family's rice fields

At 18 years old, she balances her education with supporting her subsistence farming family in the rice fields of Hangkan village in Khammouane province. 

But the work is fraught with danger, "It is difficult to live and produce food on contaminated land," explains Ms Phitsamai's dad, Mr Khamsing. "The unexploded bombs impact our ability to farm. I have even hit a bomb when ploughing the paddies."

Laos remains one of the most bombed countries in the world today.

More than 250 million submunitions, or ‘bomblets’, were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War – the equivalent of one planeload every eight minutes for nine years.

Around a third of the bombs failed to detonate as intended: they lay dormant but deadly — ready to strike at any moment and still claiming lives today.

MAG has been working in Laos for over 25 years.

“In 2004, my sister was killed by an unexploded bomb when she was digging up bamboo shoots. It detonated. She died immediately. As the village chief, people in the village find and report bombs to me every month,” Mr Khamsing says.

Ms Phitsamai works with her family in the rice fields

This year, MAG teams have cleared over 75,000m² of farmland in Hangkan — an area equivalent to the size of 14 football pitches.

"Now I don't worry about my children helping me to farm here." 

With the land cleared, Mr Khamsing is less anxious about his daughter helping out on the farm.

At the same time, Ms Phitsamai feels more secure leaving her father working in the fields while she studies, "finally our farmland is free from bombs, and I am not afraid to help my parents to farm here. Also, I am not worried that my father will hit a bomb while ploughing the paddy fields."

MAG teams work to clear unexploded bombs in Laos

In marking International Youth Day 2021, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recognised that: "young people are on the frontlines of the struggle to build a better future for all."

And this is true for Ms Phitsamai, a final year student at the local Kham Hae high school.

When she isn't working on the farm, she dreams of a future working to help her community by clearing her country of the deadly legacy of conflict.

"When I graduate, I would like to apply for a job with a mine action organisation like MAG and make people smile with my work — which is what MAG has done for me and my family."