Another Exciting Distribution of Water Filters with Amazing Friends

With the much anticipated arrival of friends from British Columbia, Canada, we sent Siphan up ahead to organize the delivery of 250 water filters to four villages.  Of course there are always complications.  By now we have come to expect the unexpected.  The delivery truck left on time, with plenty of time to get here but decided he wanted to spend two nights in Vientiane, rather than one night, despite explicit instructions and agreement.  This threw the entire process off.  Village chiefs had to be called who in turn had to call all of the people who had left the village to meet up with the truck; the delivery of replacement parts to Luang Prabang had to be cancelled and the final 14 water filters had to be delivered to Siphan’s house in Phonsavanh.  The delay further resulted in taking an extra day to deliver everything.

Our guests arrived safe and sound and we began the next adventure.

From left; Rotarian Mike Storey from Ladner, Gary from Richmond Hill, myself, Siphan, Jouey (sponsored teacher, Rotarian Dianna and Tamara (formerly RYLA)

From left; Rotarian Mike Storey from Ladner, Gary from Richmond Hill, myself, Siphan, Jouey (sponsored teacher, Rotarian Diana and Tamara (formerly RYLA)

Once we arrived at the drop off site of Pak Jeem, we loaded onto a most uncomfortable tractor and rode through streams, huge ruts and an all out bumpy ride for about an hour.  The ladies were on the front of the tractor, men on the back because that is where the engine exhaust headed.  We got there pretty late and were never so glad to get off.

We would have taken more pictures but it was a balancing act the entire trip and we were facing backwards...rather difficult to watch for tree limbs from that view.

We would have taken more pictures but it was a balancing act the entire trip and we were facing backwards…rather difficult to watch for tree limbs from that view.

After arriving at the village we were surprised to see that Khamdy, who we sponsored during his final years as a university student and as a teacher until he went on payroll) and his brother Somnuek.  Living in Pak Jeem, they too a motor bike a few hours ahead of us and had all of the water filters set up for us.  All we had to do was label them!

With 62 systems already set up, I went right into the teaching segment of the program and the audience was amazing and thrilled for a cure to their diarrhea…again, all of them rose there hands when I asked if they had experienced diarrhea recently.

installing the labels on the filters.

installing the labels on the filters.

The villagers took every opportunity to find shade during the training

The villagers took every opportunity to find shade during the training

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During the training, we used a very specially labelled filter in honour of an Italian friend who lost her brother on New Years in Italy.  Normally they would be taking pictures and video instead of me and my amateur efforts.

May he rest in peace. We miss you Serena and Massimo

May he rest in peace. We miss you Serena and Massimo.

The villagers had a special baci ceremony waiting for us also.  This was a first for some of the guests and they felt quite humbled over it, as we did.

The baci and string ceremony with the villagers wishing us long lives, good health and many other chants.

The baci and string ceremony with the villagers wishing us long lives, good health and many other chants.

After a rush back to Nong Khiaw for the night, dinner and a sleep, we headed to Vieng Hin.  Fortunately we could drive right to the village up and down a dusty, winding road through the mountains.  Here we distributed another 137 systems.

This gives you an idea of the volume. Here, the villagers (the rest of their families were waiting on the sidelines) are holding up their toothbrushes and paste to thank our dental hygiene sponsors. We have video too!

This gives you an idea of the volume. Here, the villagers (the rest of their large families were waiting on the sidelines) are holding up their toothbrushes and paste to thank our dental hygiene sponsors. We have video too!

Everyone holding up their hands to give us an idea of the magnitude of suffering caused by water borned illnesses...diarrhea

Everyone holding up their hands to give us an idea of the magnitude of suffering caused by water borned illnesses…diarrhea

During my demonstrations, I use different coloured sparkles to describe the effects of bacteria spread by sharing water to wash hands. They got the message pretty clearly.

During my demonstrations, I use different coloured sparkles on the hands of the villagers to describe the effects of bacteria spread by sharing water to wash hands. They got the message pretty clearly.  Before long, the kids had sparkles on their faces and in their hair.

Heading back to Nong Khiaw through the spectacular mountain views.

Heading back to Nong Khiaw through the spectacular mountain views.

The next morning we stopped off at Siphan’s farm to give our new guests and idea of what farming was like here. Fortunately we were met with Siphan’s mom and dad and his brother.  Tamara was quite interested because she grows chickens on her own…as pets (her words not mine).

Feeding the fish

Feeding the fish.  It is dry season so the crops had already been harvested.

For our final day of the distribution, we were in for a surprise…not exactly a fun one either.  We distributed another 37 systems although more are needed.  We couldn’t fit any more filters on the truck so will have to go back and I am not looking forward to it.  We thought the first tractor ride was rough.  Tht was a piece of cake compared to this one.  The ruts in the pathways were massive, plus lots or rocks and I counted 22 rivers and streams that we crossed.  It was 1 hr 20 minutes each way by tractor.  I thought we would never get there!  I felt quite bad for our guests but they never complained once and felt that the experience was amazing.  Here was our reception when we finally arrived.

It is always an emotional experience for us when we see this.

It is always an emotional experience to see this. They students had spent the morning preparing flower bouquets for us and presented them to us.  This is better than a red carpet treatment I think, although I have never been invited onto a red carpet before.

Another spiritual Baci ceremony to offer thanks for our help. The villagers were a pretty happy bunch. Knowing htat we didn't have enough filters on this round, we gave t-shirts to the rest with a promise to return

Another spiritual Baci ceremony to offer thanks for our help. The villagers were a pretty happy bunch. Knowing htat we didn’t have enough filters on this round, we gave t-shirts to the rest with a promise to return

Here are a couple of images of the village and school.  They are desperate to get a reliable source of water.  With the dry season upon us, their current source is expected to be dry within the next couple of weeks…and in Canada, we waste more than we use, taking it for granted.

Lung Pha Village. I doubt they get any foreign visitors here.

Lung Pha Village. I doubt they get any foreign visitors here.

 

This is their school...just one room and they try to teach 5 grades.

This is their school…just one room and they try to teach 5 grades.

We made it back to Luang Prabang that evening and still, not a complaint…Maybe people in BC are just too polite…LOL  I had a tough time sitting down for two days, had bumps, bruises, cuts and welts from the tractor…and I am going to have to do this again!

Our farewell dinner. I am so sad to see them go.

Our farewell dinner. I am so sad to see them go.

Diana (at the back on the right) was the one I was most concerned about because I wasn’t sure how the tough ride would affect her, but she presented a poem that she wrote, bringing tears to our eyes.  We made Mike read it because he is a tough guy right?  This says it all.

From the bank of the Mekong 2016

Yeah, though we have walked through this land of red dust
Stained by the blood of innocents,
We have feared no evil.
For these are gentle people, the gentlest of people.
And softly, softly, they steal your heart away.

Generations past, in this war torn country some did
survive, deep in the caves that sheltered them.
Tragically,even today,just a farmers hoe striking the
ground, or a child’s footfall and again the explosions of the bombs
And the madness begins again.

We came to Laos Country to bring fresh clean water for health,
And perhaps in a way a small amount of wealth.

But the gift we found was for ourself to enjoy,
The mountains high, the valleys low and the
moody rivers running free,
The poinsettia, the Palm and the rubber tree.

And the monks, they came in a procession of saffron
robes, with much dignity and ease,
Our very hearts to please.
Among our small cadre we have some as well,
As many a novice does live to tell.

Our time here is now sadly coming to a close and we are going away.
Will we come again? You may very well ask.
The answer of course is, I don’t believe you could keep us away.

Diana Cabott, 2016

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Hmong New Year Celebration

It is difficult to take pictures while being part of the celebration.  The ceremony itself started with the arrival of the District Governor, District Hygiene Director and so on down the line.  There were a few speeches, Hmong Dance and then the Governor spoke.  He was very eloquent and spent most of his time speaking about the care and maintenance of the new water system, starting with the phrase ‘Water is Life’.  Towards the end, he spoke about the advances in the country over the last year, discussing the new railway that is under construction and the Lao-hosted Asean summit coming soon, with President Obama attending.  We were really impressed!  The village gave the governor a very long update on their accomplishments over the year and handed out awards.  I handed over the inaugural pipe wrench to conclude our project and officially hand over ownership and responsibilities.  Here are a few highlites;

Mmmmm....delicious goats blood..NOT!

Mmmmm….delicious goats blood..NOT!  The rest of the dishes include rice of course plus various goat dishes.

You will note that in my right hand I just put down the hand sanitizer - since everyone shares with their hands, I took the liberty of giving some to everyone around me...

You will note that in my right hand I just put down the hand sanitizer – since everyone shares with their hands, I took the liberty of giving some to everyone around me…including the governor beside me.

Todays food included mostly beef - I stuck with sticky rice and bbq'd beef that I could recognize.  Gary generally ate everything he laid his eyes on except the buffalo bile...

Todays food included mostly beef – I stuck with sticky rice and bbq’d beef that I could recognize. Gary generally ate everything he laid his eyes on except the buffalo bile…

My presentation of the pipe wrench to the Governor and on to the chief.

My presentation of the pipe wrench to the Governor and on to the chief.

Here I am receiving a framed certificate on behalf of the government with their sincerest thanks for our support.

Here I am receiving a framed certificate on behalf of the government with their sincerest thanks for our support.  There is a certificte there for Serena and Massimo from Italy also. Unfortunately, they had to return to Italy early due to a very sad and sudden death of Serena’s brother.

Traditional Hmong dance...quite amazing - wish we understood the story he was telling us through dance.

Traditional Hmong dance…quite amazing – wish we understood the story he was telling us through dance.

I think the boys represented animals with their horns but the Hmong culture is so different and both the Khmu and Lao people do not understand it.

I think the boys represented animals with their horns but the Hmong culture is so different and both the Khmu and Lao people do not understand it.

A gift of a beautiful scarf by the chief on behalf of the village.

A gift of a beautiful scarf by the chief on behalf of the village.

The sign was installed on a temporary basis - the permanent cement posts will be done this week.

The sign was installed on a temporary basis – the permanent cement posts will be done this week.  The sign is located as one enters the village.

We are so humbled by the support we have received from Rotary Clubs right across the country from Vancouver Yaletown and Coquitlam Sunrise, British Columbia to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. In addition to the Interact Club of Clarington and the Rotoract Club of DC/UOIT.  District 7070 clubs included a matching District Grant and funds from The rotary Clubs of Bowmanville, Whitby Sunrise, Pickering, Ajax, Courtice, Etobicoke, Markham-Unionville, North York, Oshawa Parkwood, Port Hope, Richmond Hill, Scarborough, Scarborough North, Toronto, Toronto West, Whitby and Uxbridge.  It is amazing what we can accomplish together!

 

Vieng Hin Water Concluded

As our avid readers are aware, nothing is ever straightforward and usually difficult at best.  So many things can go wrong and usually do BUT I am proud and happy to announce that this project was concluded with only minor hitches along the way.  We arrived back in Vieng Hin the day before their celebration of Hmong New Years and the party was pretty much underway.  Each village family (137 families) was required to pay 100,000 Kip which is a lot for them, in advance of the celebrations.  So on the first day they slaughtered a goat and 2 chickens.  A little further into the village we noted the cultural ball toss.  This is a practice whereby the boys and girls, men and women dress up in their colourful traditional outfits and toss a ball back and forth to their hopeful future partners. If someone drops the ball, it is believed that they are not interested in the partner.  These days it generally means that that they can’t catch (that would be me).  At some point the man/boy invites the girl to drink and eat with them, perhaps take them to see the caves together or the farm where they can spend some quality time together.

Ball Toss among Hmong villagers.

Ball Toss among Hmong villagers.

While some Hmong will go all the way with the girl if they want to, it is generally considered sinful and the couple are required to wait a week to see if there are any other takers for the women.  This is a nervous time for the couple.  Another Hmong man may visit anytime during that week, usually from a different village, and claim the women.  If she isn’t interested, it is simply too bad for the woman because she will get locked into a room until she accepts or until the man feels it is a useless attempt (at least a week).  The woman is fed of course.  I suspect this doesn’t happen very often any more but it seems unethical.  After that is marriage and lots of kids but more about that later.

After a short visit we headed to inspect the dam and the water tank.  Due to the landscape the dam location was moved about 50 metres to the south of where we thought it was going to be but not a big deal.  I should point out that Gary, a good friend from Canada (Richmond Hill) was there also and each of us was assigned a vilage Ambassador.  Indeed they were beautiful but we know better than to flirt with them.  The girls were certainly flirting with us though.  Deb (Gary’s wife), when you see the picture, don’t get too excited…Gary was a perfect gentleman…I might have a couple of pictures though that could be considered as blackmail material (KIDDING).

Looking at the dam from above.

Looking at the dam from above. You can see the board holding back the river.  They wanted to wait for us to arrive so they could officially remove it as conclusion to the project (allowing the river to continue to flow)

You will note that they left the top board in so that they could officially lift it to allow the water flow to continue downstream.

They are getting ready to remove the board…needless to say, we stayed out of the path to avoid getting wet.

The two village ambassadors and the chief pose for the picture. The lady on the left is 16, in Grade 10 and she is from a family of 11. to my right, thelady is in grade 11 and comes from a family of 17!!!

The two village ambassadors and the chief pose for the picture. The lady on the left is 16, in Grade 10 and she is from a family of 11. to my right, thelady is in grade 11 and comes from a family of 17!!!

Don't worry Deb...

Don’t worry Deb…the lady standing by Gary, was really after me.

This is one huge tank for 137 families. However, considering the average number of people per family, I should not be surprised.

This is one huge tank for 137 families. However, considering the average number of people per family, I should not be surprised.

The ladies followed us right up the ladder. We are standing on top of the water tank.

The ladies followed us right up the ladder. We are standing on top of the water tank.

The last task of the day, before heading back to a guest house was to handout uniforms from Afrisoccer who donated them on behalf of Ontario’s Durham Region Sports Clubs.  They provided slightly used jerseys, shorts and socks.  The one issue with the socks was that only a couple of the players had proper shoes – they usually play barefoot.  The soccer field was in use but it didn’t take the team long to dig post holes, put in posts and string a rattan ball net.  We have video (still needs to be edited) but the kids were pretty nervous playing in front of the Falang (foreigners).

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These kids are sooooo shy! I had to tickle them to get them to smile for the camera.

These kids are sooooo shy! I had to tickle them to get them to smile for the camera.

Here is a preview of my next post.

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