Last Day with Jai Lao Foundation

With the predelivery of water filters for the village, we are all set to go for distribution to every family of a water filter (plus two for the school), hygiene kits (courtesy of Jao Lao Foundation), a hygiene training course and the official announcement that Jai Lao would be the sponsors for a new school.  Hat Kham Village lost there school during the monsoons of the year before.  Here are some highlites;

Water Filters prepared and waiting for their new owners

Hygiene Training at the community centre

Above: The winner of the POP Quiz after training.  We asked them to name 5 things they could use the water filter for.

Essay Winner Dara and Reynold hand out Hygiene kits to the villagers

Two Filters provided to the new school (yet to be built)

Typical Village scene in Hat Kham Village

Today we are off to Vientiane to meet with Foreign Affairs and announce the rest of our plans for this year, plus try to go to a Rotary Meeting and look for some blackboards that aren’t just painted wood, among other things.  Then I am heading to Pakse in the south to do a day or two of sightseeing.

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New Season, New Projects!

I made it through the first two weeks and managed to get a lot accomplished already although I am still behind the 8ball so-to-speak.  My hope is to get some, preferably all of the new projects completed before the rainy season.  Last season was just too difficult for many in terms of transportation and access, illness etc.

My first encounter was at the Hanoi airport – I was supposed to be there for 10 hours although it turned into just over 13 hours because they cancelled the first flight of the day, so I spent the night there with 100’s of very fat, but fast rats.  Once the lights went dim, they were everywhere climbing the shelves in the retail shops, scurrying across the floor and even above the ceiling tiles over my head – not terribly comfortable for sleeping if you aren’t used to that sort of thing.

Since then Sean Holt has joined me from Squamish, British Columbia to assist in the projects.  I have tried to bring him slowly into the customs, starting with accommodation in a fairly modern house, then staying in a tourist hut and taking day trips into the villages.  Our next trip will include a village stay so that should be interesting without any of the ammenties of the city.  Welcome Sean!

Sean Holt, Squamish, BC, Canada

After the women already!

Next up….La and her sister Noel from the Jai Lao Foundation (‘Jai’ means from the heart) joined us with the winner of the essay contest, Daravanh Bills and her husband Reynold.

The Gang

From Left: Dara (Jai Lao Foundation), Bounmy (AAVIL), Noel (Jai Lao Foundation), Reynold (husband of essay winner Dara), Steve (AAVIL) and Dara (Essay WINNER!)

We headed straight for Nong Khiaw by minivan, then by boat to Muang Ngoi where we found a reasonable place to stay with hot water electricity for at least some of the day.  Bounmy continued up to a riverside village another 45 minutes upstream to prepare for our arrival the following day in Done Lom Village where the official opening ceremony of the school was to take place.  I was quite surprised by how well planned the event was when we arrived.  The villagers lined up the paths right from the boat, up the riverbank and into the village – what a sight…Another dream come true was about to unfold.  There it was!  The school!  I remember seeing pictures of the villagers gathering gravel from the riverbed (one stone at a time) to take up to the school site.  I also remember the first time we saw the land they were going to use and the area had red markings on the trees to label the area that was to be checked by the UXO office for unexploded ordinance.  Guess what??  They found some!!  Thank God we had the sense not to go into the area at that time.  More about that later.  Here are a few images;

Done Lom Riverbank
Done Lom Riverbank where The Children await

The Adults turn to greet us

Inside the first classroom

Master of CeremoniesStudents in uniform for the ceremony

One of the things I noticed on this visit was that the men seemed a little subdued, perhaps even a bit cranky…then I found out why.  They insisted on slaughtering this cow for us and finally found it around 11pm the night before.  Unfortunately they realized after they shot it that it was the daughter of the cow they were looking for.  The women (yes at 11pm) prepared the cow for cooking and then realized that it wasn’t enough.  The men then had to go out to look for the original cow – they finally found it at around 4am, just when the chief was about to wake up all the women in the village too, to look for the cow.  Needless to say, nobody had any sleep the night before we came.  As it turned out, a couple of still drinks of Lao Lao and they were happy again!

Receiving of Recognition

Gift Offering by the Village Chief

What would a celebration be without Baci! Noel enjoying the event too!

Dinner with a few friends, OK well maybe more than a few

Moms enjoying a performance by their daughters

Performance by some of the children in traditional clothing

Reynold and his assigned dance partner

Some of the school kids pose, with thanks to our school sponsors

Done Lom Kids ran to the shore to see us off.

Here are a couple of pictures you don’t see very day.  It was a little shocking to me and the visitors that came with us but we noticed a couple of markings in the ground, one just about 6 feet (2 metres) from the front of the school, the other was about 3 metres from the back of the school.  I supposed shock was an understatement.  These markings identified the location of where the UXO office had located 2 unexploded bombies!  They put permanent makers in the ground (after removal) to remind everyone of their history.

Bombie (part of a cluster bomb) located just to the front back of the school

Original bombie located just to the right of the school front

 

Heading Back to Laos

I can hardly believe that I will be on the plane in just two weeks. Can you guess where I will be in two weeks and one day? Still on the plane or in some airport!Since April we managed to put our house up for sale, sell it, buy another house back in our old neighborhood and move in. That was the easy part. We also gained charitable status of course but more importantly we have finished something like 20 presentations to various interest groups and Rotary Clubs and managed to squeeze in one fundraiser.

As of tonight we have raised just over $59,000 in cash and
commitments. We have almost reached our targets but the last $10,000 is always
the hardest. What is worse is that I have less than 2 weeks to do it! Indeed I
am pulling out all the stops along with the few hairs left on my head. Forget
the email campaign…now it’s phone calls!
Here is what we need;
Boakham Secondary School – $3,833 (out of $25k)to
start construction on Phase 1
Phon Savanh Water Project
$2,275 (out of $10,300)
Hygienic Toilets for Pha Yong Village and Had
Chanh School
– $3,800 (out of $5K)
Toilets just don’t seem to be
popular among donors! Perhaps they think I might inscribe their name on the
ceramics? Kidding of course.
Water Filters – we need just 27
water filters to match last years numbers ($55ea)

So there you have it.
Indeed it has been a little stressful as of late trying to raise the rest. I
wish I knew more people. I even tried an ad in our newspaper, although the total
amount needed since then has changed.

I am crossing my fingers on this because I have never tried an ad of this nature
before. It just went in todays weekend paper so we will see if it has any
effect.

Once I arrive in Luang Prabang, I need to immediately prepare for
the build of Hat Kham School, sponsored in its entirety by Jai Lao Foundation in
California and thanks to Daravanh Bill’s success in winning an essay contest
about Hat Kham Village. This will also be our first distribution for this year’s
water filters. Their entourage arrives just 5 days after I do –
Yikes!

With $9900 to go and 27 water filters I am sure crossing my
fingers for the other projects. I won’t start a project unless I have the funds
to finish it. The last thing we want to see is concrete posts sticking up in an
overgrown field in a third world country – I bet you all have seen that!
I will try to do one last update before I head out to let you know if I was
successful or not!

Great News and a Happy Day

Where does all the time go? It is already August and I have missed two months of posts but it certainly hasn’t been without activity.
First, the best news of all. We applied for Charitable Status in January of this year and despite friends telling us that it took them anywhere from 18 months to 5 years, we have been notified after just 7 months that WE HAVE BEEN APPROVED FOR CHARITABLE STATUS!!!! See the top right corner of your screen for our registration number.
Throughout the summer we have been presenting to various Rotary Clubs across our District and beyond with some success, plus we have been invited to speak at Indigo’s
flagship book store in Toronto in September – of course I don’t even have a
book. Who’s complaining? Not me to be sure. We have also been asked to present
at Rotary’s District Conference in Collingwood in October – this is attended by
all 55 clubs in the District from Toronto to Belleville. We are certainly
looking forward to this.

On September 17th, please hold that evening open for us. This is our annual fundraiser to be held at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Ontario. There will be live entertainment, silent auction Lao goodies, and our presentation of course. Ted Amsden, our wonderful photo journalist will be releasing his video that night to give our followers a real
taste of Laos and their people. Don’t worry if you cannot manage a donation for
our cause at this time – we won’t lock the doors after you enter and promise not
to bug you. We want you to enjoy and learn about what we have been doing in Laos
– we hope it will bring inspiration to you, and in turn help someone who is
needy.

I am already preparing for my return to Laos but still fundraising until the moment I have to board the plane. We have a long way to go to realize the dreams of so many Loatians that would never otherwise have a chance. Please help us make this happen.

Note also that we now accept Visa and MasterCard to give more of you a choice or payment.

On a personal note, and to add to our already heavy burden, we put our house up for
sale in April, but didn’t really expect to sell it this year, due to the tough
economy. Well it happened. We move on August 26 to our new digs in Port Hope. I
have always loved Port Hope and found that we were spending more time there than
in Cobourg anyway. An added bonus too….it has been a lot of effort to manage
our grounds here. At our new place, it is managed by someone else – no lawn
cutting, no major gardening – yeeaaahh! More time for fundraising, planning and
managing the projects we have on the go.

So in summary, please check back for more details on our September 17th event.

Regrouping for the 2011/2012 Seaon

Since my return to Canada, I have not even had the time to take a break. I
came back thinking I would take 2 or 3 weeks off but that wasn’t to be. Yet for
some reason I feel re-invigorated. Perhaps it is because of all of the support I
received from family and friends I ran into on the street that were there for us
last year. In fact I have had considerable time to reflect.

At times I feel that I don’t belong here. With all the bickering you read
in the newspapers over the smallest of issues, especially under the editorial
sections, I sometimes wonder if they would continue to find something to
complain about, after just one holiday trip to Laos. I had 21 visitors to Laos
over the winter and every single one of them has said it was a life altering
experience. In my case, I guess I am still living it. With the support of all of
our private citizens and sponsors, $38,000 went a long way. We have helped over
2700 people in the rural villages with schools, a new water source for 45
families, water filters for every family in Pha Yong Village, Had Chanh Village,
Small Huephen Village, a high school hosting 1300 students, a secondary school
with 420 students and a hospital that only has water from the roof top when it
rains (we hope to supply a new water source for them when I return in November),
and a few other smaller projects.
Now that I have had a chance to catch my breath, I have reviewed 34
proposal requests from Laos totalling $940,000. Looking at this number over and
over again, I couldn’t help but just stare at it. It just seems so
insurmountable. I consider myself a reasonable amateur fundraiser but 7 months
to raise these funds in an economic climate that is trying recover….I just
keep shaking my head.
The only way I could deal with it was to try to break it down in sections.
I knew that Rotary is very supportive of anything to do with water so that
helped a lot. If I can raise $50,000 at the club level, the Rotary District and
Rotary International could potentially match to a total of $200,000. This would
cover off the costs for the new water source projects, hygienic toilets for 2
villages, hygienic toilets for 16 schools and 175 more water filter systems.
This also includes the hospital requirements which also requested a computer for
admissions and some small medical instruments. That is a good sized chunk out of
my target.
Next I broke down the smaller projects of bicycles for two village schools,
student support requests and blackboards, although I am having a lot of trouble
sourcing the good quality green ones, rather than plywood painted black (the
students can’t see the chalk from the back of the room!). I have also applied
for sponsorship to private individuals and an organizations for all of these
items except for 3 university students. Yet it is pretty hard to ask for a firm
commitment if I can’t even source the proper blackboards and cost.
As the third breakdown, I had given myself a target of a total of 1000
water filter systems this year. Holy crap! What was I thinking? I had to raise
the price too, to $55.00 per system because that is what they ended up costing
last year. I know that many of the people who kindly donated last year (202
filters sponsored last year), will do so again this year and a few of them have
decided to go out on their own to try to raise more filter sales. A good friend
Roland Drake, from Toronto has already raised about 20 filters. Another friend
in North Carolina has vowed to raise at least 10. If I add in the 175 filters
that I am including in my proposal to Rotary, the total so far is pretty
significant, with the sales already made. With the wonderful help from Roland,
we have finalized a brochure for the water filter systems. Please feel free to
download and print off. Maybe you know someone that may wish to help a family or
two?


This leaves 16 schools and I still find myself staring at the number. It is
still huge. I have commitments of about $6000, a far cry from about $650,000.
Indeed I have a couple of smaller sponsors up my sleeve that I will be
approaching and a couple of fundraisers planned for later in the summer that
might bring in another $15-20,000. I am also trying to work out some other
options too. The Jai Lao Foundation in California has announced an essay
competition (closes May 31) and I understand that a couple of the schools in my
district may be considered. It is still just a shot in the dark but you never
know. There is another shot in the dark with the possibility of speaking to a
University south of the border where there may be some consideration into
Adopting A Village in Laos. You never know. Still, I know I need a better plan
than this to raise significant funds for these schools that are either
non-existent or in shambles.

So here is my plea. If any of you can assist in the funding, or know someone or an organization that may be able to assist, I would be deeply grateful.

Meanwhile I continue to book presentations to various clubs and special
interest groups. This will be ongoing throughout the summer.

Huephen Village – Fresh, Clean Water!

My last tour of duty in Laos was to distribute water filters to Huephen
Village, located about 1 hour north of Luang Prabang. The villagers has showed
me their three water sources and all had completely dried up except for one that
was only about 6″ deep and perhaps 1 square meter – this one was drying up very
quickly too. After a study and lots of fundraising we were able to raise the
funds to go ahead with the project. Meanwhile, a number of families were forced
to move in search of water.

I am pleased to announce that they now how water flowing into their
tapheads. This project is not quite complete because we are still waiting for
the concrete on the storage tank to dry but we have completed the dam, several
km’s of pipe, and 5 tapheads. The pipe has been temporarily diverted around the
water tank but the project should be complete in a week.
Above: The Dam (about an hour trek each way from the village)

Above: The Water Tank

 

Above: The smiles!
We spent considerable time going over the basics of hygiene plus how to
maintain the water filters and then distributed one to every family.




Thanks to all of our amazing sponsors who allowed this to move forward. Without
you, who knows what would have happened to the villagers – perhaps a ghost town?
As mentioned, this was my last planned task for the trip, although I did venture
down to the Capital city of Vientiane to see what they had there in terms of
products and services. It certainly isn’t Bangkok but it has a beautiful
riverfront park that opened a few months ago plus some sightseeing and more
selection for shopping.

Last Distribution of Water Filters for the Season

My Last week in Laos was indeed an interesting one and it was a strong reminder
of why I was there in the first place, not that I ever forgot of course. Most of
my work is generally drudge work requiring lots of planning, organizing,
purchasing, banking, accounting, fact gathering, proposals and many, many other
things that tend to fill up my days. BUT it is moments like these, I cherish and
many of you will too. First up was during my last visit to Pha Yong Village. I
had not been there in about a month and I knew the chief had been trying to get
a letter of request down to me in Luang Prabang for 24 rolls of barbed wire to
be able to build a fence around the school and field and keep the water buffalo
and pigs out of the school yard. Mike and I were happy to sponsor this and so I
arranged for the delivery. Once I returned to the village I was so pleasantly
surprised to see that the fence was up already – it was a bg school yard and
they had done it the day before. As the chief explained, each villager was also
required to supply one wooden post and two bamboo poles. When asked how long it
took them to build the fence and gates, his response was that it took just over
two hours! Whoa….try THAT in Canada – we would probably get three quotes,
haggle over the price and complain that it was taking too long!

It was a last minute thought to take pictures of the fence as we were riding away so this is just a small piece of it. Next up was a water filter distribution. I had been told earlier that a number of families had moved out of Ban Huephen in search of water for their families. It had been in our plans to provide a new water source for them but more about that later. I had extra filters and was determined to distribute them before I left. I had visited a 1300 student high school that was bursting at the seams in terms of
classroom sizes and the structure itself due to termite damage. In one of my
much earlier blog entries I included some pictures of this wooden high school.
Just two weeks before I had visited the location with a potential sponsor to
satisfy a request to complete a two room addition (separate building) to the
school and noticed some serious degradation to the support beams of the school,
to the point where one of the beams had already shifted sice I had been there
the previous time. I couldn’t bear it so I personally paid for and ordered new
massive support beams that had to be hand made and told them to use any extra
money from that to put towards a cement floor in the new addition. On this trip
I was there to teach about proper hygiene to the students and teachers and to
disribute some of the extra water filters. Somnuek Bounsa (the general manager
of Le Belair Hotel) delivered them with me in his truck and we were both shocked
when we arrived. As soon as our truck stopped on the grounds, we heard the
school bell ringing (actually it was the rim of an old truck tire) and the kids
running and lining up both sides of a pathway leading from our truck. It took us
a minute to realize they had something planned for us. All the students and
teachers lined up both sides of us that led right up to one of the new rooms and
they were clapping in unison for us. Inside the large room, bacci had been
prepared for us. All the teachers, all the graduating students and select
students from other grades had been invited to attend and each student was asked
to prepare a question for me. After bacci, I was asked all sorts of questions
about Canada, about me and one of the teachers asked my age and if I was married
– of course the entire room knew that she was looking for a husband and erupted
in laughter. Her face went various shades of red. Here are some highlites;

One
of the questions asked during the question and answer period was if we provide
support for university and within an hour these four boys had already neatly
written CV’s and letters of request to us. This is just the first stage. I now
have to give them more details on the rules and subsequent competition. We gave
out 6 water filters to this school. After we left the high school we went to a
secondary school and dormitory to deliver more filters. We were met with lots of
enthusiasm here as well.

I
will be back with more water filters for this dormatory. There is no water there
at all – the kids have to go down to the river to bathe. Although, there is a
new trench that has been dug and we are told that the school should be getting
water soon. We delivered the last two water filters to the derelict hospital I
included in two of my earlier blog entries. They have to bring water in since
there is none on the premises but at least the water can be used for drinking
water with the help of two new filters. Their request for a well and new
latrines is being considered as an Adopt A Village In Laos for next year.
You will notice one of the patients lying in bed in the background. They
actually had four patients at the time in a 10 bed hospital. I wonder what
happens during their busy season.