Unsung Hero: Noimany Pialeuxay

by Leah Young [ Mine Action Information Center ]

Noimany Pialeuxay, the first woman driver to be hired by MAG Lao PDR, has worked with her all-female unexploded ordnance clearance team to clear landmines in remote areas of Laos. Her story has been an inspiration to many other women who wish to join the demining effort.

Noimany Pialeuxay
Noimany Pialeuxay.
Photo courtesy of MAG / Nick Axelrod

A woman driver is a very rare thing to find in Lao PDR, as is an all-female unexploded ordnance clearance team. Working with its all-female UXO clearance team since September 2007, Noimany Pialeuxay, the first woman driver for Mines Advisory Group Lao PDR, is broadening the scope forever in Laos of what women can do.1 “Everyone was talking about MAG because they were the first organization in Lao PDR to recruit a female driver,” says Pialeuxay. “I applied because I really love driving.”

The daughter of a driving instructor, Pialeuxay grew up driving, and at the age of 18 became one of a handful of women from the Xieng Khouang province in Laos to receive a driver’s license. When she responded to a MAG advertisement for a driver, her interviewer Willi Kubirske quickly discovered that “she indeed can drive a vehicle.” She then began the process of testing and training for the field, and soon became the first woman driver to be employed by MAG Lao PDR, joining an all-female UXO-clearance team. Pialeuxay says she is very happy about this accomplishment.

Pialeuxay is now a member of one of MAG’s two all-female UXO clearance teams in Laos, an initiative to provide employment for women in the rural regions of Laos and improve their social status while also bringing a uniquely female approach to the UXO-clearance process in that nation.1 MAG feels that women are key players in the recovery of mine and UXO-affected communities, even though their contributions are often overlooked in the mine-action field. In its programs around the world, MAG works to incorporate women into the demining and UXO-clearance process to utilize their perspectives and knowledge—especially concerning the effects of landmines and explosive remnants of war on children.1 The MAG initiative in Laos also empowers women by providing nightly English lessons to the female employees.2

“If you see a job advertisement, then apply! Don’t be afraid of men who say women can’t do this job.”

Pialeuxay’s responsibilities as a member of the team include securely transporting UXO-clearance teams and their equipment to frequently remote and dangerous locations. The fact that she is a woman is very important to group dynamics, since having a man transport the team would change the team structure. The mountainous roads on which Pialeuxay must drive to and from work sites are often treacherous and difficult to maneuver. The only existing roads sometimes are made for foot use only; roads can be muddy, slippery and nearly impassable.2 It takes great skill to drive these roads successfully.

Willi Kubirske, Technical Field Manager, has observed Pialeuxay’s work with MAG since her interview process began. “What struck me right from the beginning was how spontaneous [she is] on the one side and how shy she is on the other side,” he says. Kubirske has observed that Pialeuxay is a very committed worker, one who understands the importance of her role of getting her team safely to the demining sites. He observes that she is an “excellent team player and right from the start … fit into her role as a driver.” Pialeuxay strives to keep a positive perspective about life and is always smiling.

Pialeuxay and the female UXO-clearance team are contributing to the future of Laos through their work. Their team’s main objective is to go into rural areas and clear the unexploded ordnance remaining from conflicts that occurred over 30 years ago. This UXO continues to be a significant cause of injury and death in rural communities in Laos.

Collecting scrap metal is a key form of income for many residents of remote, poor regions of Laos, and it is one of the main causes of UXO-related deaths and injuries; many times the old UXO is mistaken for scrap metal. UXO further impairs the economic growth of many communities in Lao PDR, as its existence keeps vast amounts of otherwise useful land from being cultivated and farmed. Through the clearance of this land, the team opens many economic opportunities for impoverished communities and provides safety from the threat of UXO injury.2 Pialeuxay says, “I feel proud because I am one of a team [that is] helping people to be safe from UXO contamination. I am also proud because we are undertaking dangerous work that directly benefits communities.”

She observes that her female UXO clearance team shows women across rural areas of Laos that they also have the ability to contribute. “Many women ask me if MAG is still recruiting,” Pialeuxay says. She encourages women who are interested to get involved in mine-action and clearance projects. “If you see a job advertisement, then apply! Don’t be afraid of men who say women can’t do this job.”

Kubirske agrees, saying Pialeuxay exemplifies the success that is possible for women throughout Laos. He says that her accomplishments in UXO clearance with MAG are not only outstanding and encouraging to women involved in UXO and mine clearance in Laos; she can “also be an inspiration for other women in Laos,” proving, “that women can enter ‘the man’s world’ and make a success of it.”JMA icon

Biography

Young Headshot Leah Young has been working at The Journal of ERW and Mine Action since January 2008. She is from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and attends James Madison University where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in justice studies with a minor in Spanish.

Endnotes

  1. Tom Morgan. “All female clearance team.” http://maginternational.org/news/laos-all-female-clearance-team/. Accessed  1 December 2008.
  2. Tom Morgan. “MAG Lao’s first female driver.” http://maginternational.org/news/lao-pdr-mag-laos-first-female-driver/?keywords=FEMALE+DRIVER. Accessed 1 December 2008.

Contact Information

Leah Young
Editorial Assistant
Journal of Mine Action
Mine Action Information Center
E-mail: maic@jmu.edu

Noimany Pialeuxay
Driver, All-Female UXO Clearance Team
c/o MAG Lao PDR
Phonngamtai, Pek District
Xiengkhouang Province / Lao PDR
Tel:+856(0) 61 312311
Fax:+856(0) 213268

Willi Kubirske
Technical Field Manager
MAG Lao
Ban Sithanneua
PO Box 4660
Vientiane / Lao PDR
Tel: +856 21 242 004/251 849
Fax: +856 21 217 505
E-mail: maglaotfm1@laopdr.com
Web: www.maginternational.org

Tom Morgan
Regional Information Officer Southeast Asia
MAG Lao
Po Box 4660
Vientiane 166 Lao PDR
Tel: +856 0 21 251 849 ext.107
Fax: +856 0 21 217 505
E-mail: tom.morgan@maginternational.org
Web: www.maginternational.org