The 32-year-old works alongside 30 other artisans at Article 22, a company that makes jewelry using Vietnam War–era bombs and scrap.
“Wars don’t end when history books say they do,” explains Elizabeth Suda, the founder of Article 22. “They don’t end with a date. This war has a legacy that is alive and present.”
During the Vietnam War, the United States dropped about 2 million tons of ordnance during 580,000 bombing missions on Laos, a secret casualty. More than 40 years later, the war isn’t over in the Southeast Asian country: 80 million of the bombs dropped didn’t detonate. To this day, unexploded ordnance with the capacity to kill and maim is spread across the farmlands, gardens, and footpaths of Laos.
At the current rate of removal, it will take an estimated 800 years to clear them all.
The details of how Phouangsavat’s hometown became known as War Spoon Village are hazy. In 1975, a lone traveler journeyed through the Plain of Jars in northeastern Laos, where thousands of enormous, hollowed-out stones shaped like jars dot the earth—the Stonehenge of Southeast Asia. Legend has it the jars are the whiskey glasses of giants; today the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The traveler settled in the village and taught one of his neighbors how to turn bomb scrap metal into aluminum spoons. Traditionally subsistence farmers, the spoon makers started selling them for a small profit.