Wednesday, August 27, 2008


the gift of life

Dear Friends,

It’s been a while since I talked to many of you so you may not know that currently, I am on an around the world trip to document and support the work of extraordinary social change agents. Since I’ve been off the radar, I thought I’d send a friendly reminder that my 32nd birthday is in less than a week. While I won’t be in town to accept your well wishes, generous gifts, and dinner offers I would be flattered if you would help me celebrate by donating 32 dollars in honor of my 32nd year to the charity that has become my passion, charity: water.

I have seen great deal on this trip. It has made me thankful for everything I have and, most importantly, everyone I have in my life. Last week I went to the Killing Fields and a former school turned torture museum in Phnom Penn to bear witness to the legacy of the Khmer Rouge. It is hard to describe the experience, seeing a place where so many had been dehumanized in the most unconscionable of ways.

I will spare you the details, but what struck me most on this day were the faces of the children frozen in raw black and white staring back at me; hundreds of innocent children whose lives were taken during the course of my own.

As I processed these events my thoughts turned to children around the world whose futures are in jeopardy.

I set a goal to raise enough to build a well that will provide clean drinking water for an entire village. Your 32 dollar birthday gift in the form of a donation can help me reach my goal. 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water, and as a result 4,500 children die each day from water related diseases. While I can do little to change the fate of those lost during the Khmer Rouge, I can do my small part to make certain others are not robbed of their future.

The well will be built under the guidance of an organization I have the privilege of supporting, charity: water. Their track record shows a history of amazing work improving the futures of communities and children around the world. Charity: water calculates a single gift will provide fresh water to a child for approximately 20 years. Additionally, Matt Damon and other donors pledge to match all contributions made before the end of September not
once, but twice! Meaning your gift grows to three times its value. For the cost of a birthday lunch you could give four children access to the life-saving gift of clean water.

100% of funds raised will go directly to support communities in need and coordinates and images logged during my travels in the recipient community will be posted online so you can see the results of your support and goodwill.

Please make checks payable to charity:water and send them to me at

Michael Trainer
1653 N. Vine St.
Chicago, IL 60614

for a collective donation to be made when I return, or go to to contribute directly and let me know, so I can send you images and coordinates on google earth to commemorate your life-saving gift.

Thank you so much for your continued support! Please forward this message to friends who would be interested in supporting children in need of clean water, and check out to learn more about their innovative campaign.

I look forward to celebrating another great year with you all.

With warm regards from Laos,

Michael Trainer

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Legacy of War imagery

The Legacy of War

Laos is the most bombed country on the planet. More bombs were dropped on Laos than during the whole of Allied missions during the course of the Second World War. In an effort to stem the spread of communism, and to cut of supply lines to Vietnam, the U.S. waged a ‘secret war’ against Laos.

There are estimates that for the 8 years that this ‘secret war’ ensued, there was a bombing mission every 8 minutes for 9 years, totaling 580,000 bombing missions, with each mission dropping cluster bombs and their sub-munitions, known in Laos as ‘bombies,’ all over the country. With a 30% failure rate, this means there are now millions of bombs, live unexploded ordinance, littering the Laos landscape.

The issue with these bombies is that they spread indiscriminately, and now thirty years later, an agrarian people are left with more than 30% of their agricultural land unusable due to unexploded ordinance.

The U.S. spent more than 2 million dollars a day bombing Laos, and now children, in a country where the average person makes a dollar a day, risk their lives to harvest bomb metal for $.20 a kilo. The problem is much of this scrap metal is spread amidst live ordinance, making scrap harvesting a deadly pursuit.

The insatiable need for steel in booming economies throughout the region fuels demand for steel to support construction. With little economic opportunity, the people of Laos make due with whatever resources are available. With ‘the best of Detroit steel’ spread throughout the landscape, this means the lucrative and extremely dangerous livelihood of scrap metal harvesting is flourishing in Laos despite the danger.

Children can easily secure a Vietnamese made metal detector on credit for $9, an amount that can be paid back with the $4 a child can make on a good day collecting bomb fragments. I was exposed to the stories of several children who had lost their lives and limbs while visiting COPE in Laos’s capital of Vientiane.

COPE supports the survivors of unexploded ordinance by providing prosthetic limbs, community education, and hope to those survivors of unexploded ordinance. I spent the day with Jo Pereira, the project coordinator for COPE, to learn about the issue. There work is amazing. You can learn about COPE’s work at

Children can be robbed of their future here in Laos because of the insidious nature of bomb design. 'Bombies' are actually the size and shape of a tennis ball, but they are actually explosives with ball bearings that tear flesh and an explosive radius of 30 meters. I heard a heart wrenching story of a three boys who touched two together and died instantly with a third being taken to the hospital by his parents only to find they didn’t have the resources of life saving blood and oxygen, so they had to take their son home to watch him die.

The United States, China, and Israel have yet to sign the ban on cluster munitions. They are still in use today. There is to be a gathering this December by nations as yet uncommitted to the banning of cluster munitions. Spread the word to others and tell your representative that you want cluster munitions banned! You can also help organizations such as COPE that support the survivors of unexploded ordinance long after the bombs are dropped.

Other excellent resources on the issue:
Angela Robeson’s report “Bomb hunters” for the BBC world service
The Most Secret Place in Laos: the CIA’s Covert War in Laos, a film by Marc Eberle
The US group Legacies of War

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Friday, August 8, 2008

Refuge for Sri Lanka's street children

Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital city, has been buzzing with the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit since my arrival. Ak-47s and check-points greet the traveler and every turn. The mangy dogs have been "exported" as have some of the poor folk littering the landscape, all in an effort to put on a good public face.

A week and fifty million dollars later what is there to show for it? A few politicians now have the personal pleasure of a bullet-proof mercedez to add to their detail and a bit of pomp and circumstance to remember.

While the privileged few milk the country for all its worth, people surviving on an average household income of $1100 a year, contend with 30% inflation and $7 a gallon gasoline, a 25 year civil war raging on, and little hope for the future.

Yet amidst this climate of repression, the spirit of the Sri Lankan people shines bright. There is utter resilience and on their part, exhibited in the daily acts of sacrifice and kindness exhibited by these people who struggle tooth and nail to survive. Those with the least are often the most giving, if not with what little food they have, then with whatever they can give with the ubiquitous smile.

I got a first hand tour of these small graces when I visited a home for Colombo's street children. There I spent the afternoon playing with children who would otherwise be on the streets contending with poverty and all its ugliness. Here at the home, they had a refuge. Children were feed meals of rice and curry, they were cared for by a loving staff, and played constantly when not receiving private instruction. Without abundant resources, the imagination was left to run free and ingenuity prevailed. Local foliage became a toy-r-us Sri Lanka style; snakes were made out of palm tree leaves, and crowns were made out of twigs and leaves.

While there may be little I can do to alter the behavior of those exploiting their own people, I do look for ways to support the great efforts of those who provide support, refuge, and opportunity to societies most vulnerable. If you have creative ideas on ways to create opportunities for vulnerable children please contact me at:

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Sri Lanka's Sarvodaya movement

I came to Sri Lanka, a country I have lived in on and off for the past twelve years, to document the work of Dr. Ariyaratne, a nobel peace prize nominee and tireless advocate for the poor and marginalized in Sri Lanka. Fifty years ago, as a school principal he started a service movement which supported rural communities in organizing for self-empowerment. At the heart of this movement were shramadana camps, where people shared their labor for the benefit of the entire village. In this way roads were build, wells dug, and communities strengethened in the knowledge that they could create what they needed to themselves. Sarvodaya has a saying "we build the road and the road builds us." For the last nine months I studies the nuances of International development, never have I witnessed such a holistic ground-up movement.

Turning fifty in 2008, the movement has grown into the country's largest NGO serving millions in more than 15,000 villages across the island. As I travel and work with Sarvodaya, I am blown away by the scale of what they have been able to achieve with modest means. I have been to peace-building camps serving youth traumatized by generations of intractable civil conflict, to homes for teenage mothers, and homes for orphans in need of intensive medical care. In all of these places I felt a heart behind the work, a genuine care and commitment. These were not mere programs, created and left after completion of a contract. They were homes filled with the intangibles. The spaces were immaculate, the care diligent, and the commitment profound. I am humbled by how comprehensive, how holistic, Sarvodaya's approach is to their work. They create a family where those who otherwise fall through cracks of society find a home.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

daily practice

i have never been much for practice. i like things i am good at right away. never been much for criticism either. i suppose that is why i have an fairy substantial body of work that few people have ever seen. as i have committed myself to traveling around the world over the course of the next nine months, visualizing social change, it seems only appropriate that i get over myself and put it out there. it won't be perfect, but here we go...