It has been a whirlwind of activity during the last weeks. We had a number of visitors arrive, and in combination with trying to finsh the projects we started and get the last two underway, it made for a very interesting experience.
I had been searching for a village that had 3g so I could do a live presentation from there to a fundraiser in Toronto, being held for a planned school project in Ban Na Lea. After visiting several villages including Na Lea, we finally headed south of Luang Prabang where I was able to find a reasonable connection at our secondary school project site in Nong Boakham. The fundraiser was held by the Rotary Club of Toronto Twilight and was a huge success. Mike headed back to Canada early to be able to join them, along with some goodies for the silent auction. I should note that this is the youngest Rotary Club we have visited. I think the oldest person there is only 35..and what a refreshing dynamic group they are. I wish I had remembered to get some pictures from them for this posting but in Nong Boakham, we brought the kids to school on a Saturday morning (Friday night in Toronto) and they had prepared a song. While the internet was great at our end, it cut out in Toronto after 7 minutes, just after the kids performed their song. The video was grainy and the sound wasn’t the greatest but at least it gave the audience a glimpse.
One last thing we did was explain to the kids about the End Polio Campaign and that by submitting their picture to be added to worlds biggest commercial, Phrma would donate towards vaccinating other children of the world. So they posed for the camera with the “We are this close to ending polio in the world”, symbol.
The Club raised over $18,000. We were so amazed with their success!
Immediately following that I headed straight back to Luang Prabang and the airport. I had to leave the country due to visa expiration and then re-enter. Instead I headed to the Chiang Rai area of Thailand to take a look at a hydroponics project being constructed by a fellow Rotarian, George Punyaprateep, in hopes that it could be considered for a microfinance project in Laos. The project has since been approved by the Rotary Club of Whitby Sunrise but I think I will wait a year to see the successful outcome, look at revenues, before I recommend it as an option to our Board of Directors. having said that, it would be great to find some self sustaining projects for the villagers.
In the meantime we had been working very hard with the Provincial Government in charge of hospitals, in an effort to try to start the second phase of the hospital refurbishment, thanks to the generous support by the Rotary Club of Oshawa. The funds were to replace the roof, tile the entire hospital floor and construct a special rubbish bin (for lack of a better term) to burn contaminants. Of course nothing is ever quite as it seems. With permission for changes, it was decided to do the roof, only the patient area floors, the rubbish bin and provide some critically needed medical instruments including stethoscopes, a blood pressure test kit and a table top sterilization unit.
Well that wasn’t to be, either. The day after the materials arrived, we were approached by the director of hospitals – she is an extremely bright lady and it was explained to me that they had done a lot of roof repairs over recent repairs and due to the low slope on the roof, hail was playing havoc with it, as was the heavy rains, and she politely requested us to consider a much higher angle of the roof. We had signed contracts and everything but what she said, certainly made sense so that is what we did, but at considerable cost over budget, and it hasn’t stopped there, either! I had asked the contractor about the soffit, noting that it didn’t seem nearly enough to go around the entire hospital. While I was assured that everything was fine, I should have listened to my instinct….my fault. Of course, now we are looking at another $1500 on top of our already over budget on the roof. I cancelled the rubbish bin part of the project and the medical instruments that needed to be purchased to try to save some money. I also contacted a friend of mine who works at a hospital in Australia. She arrives in June and will be bringing medical instruments with her…..yeahhhh!
Upon our return to Laos from Thailand, Barbara Seagram arrived from Toronto, Canada, and after a shopping spree for school supplies and teaching aids, we headed for a couple of the villages to give them some English lessons. Unfortunately she arrived on a Friday and the kids wouldn’t be in school until the Monday so she had a couple of days of R & R. First stop was Katang Xieng. It was a pretty interesting experience for her I am sure, especially with the mud floor of the school hut, open air and a lot of kids squished in together. There were two things she tried so hard to refrain from…pointing and speaking louder to get her point across. I found it rather comical…Barbara, no disrespect intended and you are a born teacher. The kids loved her.
Barbara teaches bridge on cruise ships and at home. She has planned another bridge tournament in Toronto for June 18th with the proceeds going to Water Filters for the villagers. Over the last year, she has raised enough for well over 75 systems! She also took to one of our sponsored university students, Oudone. In fact she not only bought him a bicycle to get to school, but she continues to email back and forth with Oudone frequently.
Next, we went to Ban Na Lea to teach the students there. Barbara had it all arranged and began to teach. As she started to sing the ABC song while pointing to a letter English letters on the chart, the kids took over and zoomed through the letters before she could sing them. Sure shocked the heck out of her and the kids had a lot of fun with her. I think they left quite an impression!
Audrey and Pascal joined us from France the same day Barbara left. They had emailed me earlier anxious to volunteer their services for whatever we needed. Audrey is an environmental engineer and Pascal is a veterinarian but unfortunately I was at the very end of my trip with only final inspections of the projects to go. As soon as they called to say they had reached Luang Prabang, we put Audrey on the motorbike with Siphan and I walked with Pascal back to the house – his backpack must have had everything in it but the kitchen sink – it was huge! They stayed with us for several days as they geared up for the bicycle trip of their lives.
There were a few other interesting things that we experienced. Firstly I had done well in maintaining my weight throughout the season. It is quite common for me to lose weight on these trips. Two years ago I lost 35lbs but last year I figured it out and ate more baguettes and a little more Beer Lao…okay a lot more. This year though, I lost about 12lbs. I have to admit that a fews weeks before I left Mike and I saw some pretty disgusting food that they eat. By asking a few more questions, we found that we had eaten. For Barbara’s sake, I have edited out what we actually ate but if you really want to know, just send me an email. They use it for soups, sautes, and dipping sauces. I have a picture of it but have decided against posting it. At least our visitors and friends won’t be eating it! I will make sure of that.
Back at the house I was hanging laundry on the line and saw this massive spider in a new web. The spider was about the size of a huge grapefruit. I asked Siphan to take a picture of it. He not only did that but he brought it in the house. I can’t say I like spiders but this one was just too much. I am sure if Mike would have been there, he would have screamed like a school girl, especially after Siphan dared to bring it in the house. Take a look…
We had a lot of special requests – mostly small tickets items that I just couldn’t say no two. One of them is from a family living in Nong Ein. The grandparents work the fields during the day and try to take care of a huge family, including their daughter, kids and even foster kids. When we heard that they could not afford to send the foster kids to school, we immediately took them under our wing. This year, the older one will be graduating from Primary 5 and wanted to continue to study so badly, the little guy walked 8km to write and exam for entrance to secondary school. How could I say no when he asked for a bicycle.
We surprised him. It was a Sunday afternoon and had heard that he was in the jungle for the day with his orphaned brother. As he came out of the jungle he was full of sweat but you can imagine the shock on his face when we were standing there with his new bicycle. This was the first time I had ever seen him smile as he rushed by us to go wash up and change his clothes. He was soooo happy. So was his little brother who will undoubtedly get to use it too.
There were two other wonderful people that we met for the second time, Kevin and Faye Hope from Saskatchewan. They had worked on a school project in the south of Laos for the last couple of years. They are two of the most giving souls of the planet. Even with taking 3 steps forward and two steps backward, they never let that stop them from achieving their goals. This year was particularly tough on them including getting robbed in Vietnam, among other setbacks. They arrived at the same time as Audrey and Pascal and joined us for our final inspections, and bought a huge amount of teachers aids and school supplies for students in secondary and primary school. They fitted the teachers with a whole kit for several of the teachers and gave each a travel case with wheels. Wow! They also introduced me to an American who started and continues to run a library for the past 10 years. I sure learned a lot from her.
Faye and Kevin even dipped into their own pockets yet again to assist with additional materials needed to finish the hospital roof.