Last Days with Joan and John from Scarborough Rotary

We managed to finish off the remaining smaller projects for the season, and with the school addition in Katang Xieng well underway, it was time to look at a number of projects requested of us, for next year.

All the projects we are considering are in the Nambak district which is about 2 hours north of Luang Prabang, although considerably further to the villages themselves because they are well off the travelled roads.  We took a minivan as far as we could go into the highlands and then were told that we would be transported by tractor.  We weren’t impressed – not everyone can do the tractor, depending on the terrain so Joan and John decided to stay behind, but, with some good luck, a heavy duty truck came instead – while not exactly comfortable for me in a small space behind the front seats, or Siphan and the chief who had to stand in the back but it was a welcome surprise that we could all go.  It was well worth it.  As we eventually got to the destination (about 4 hours in total), the village was waiting for us with baited breath, hoping for the miracle of water.

The village was pretty happy to see us.  People just kept coming...and coming...we met under a house for the meeting

The village was pretty happy to see us. People just kept coming…and coming…we met under a house for the meeting.  Siphan is making copious notes (in the right) for me.

We discussed the options and possibilities for water next season.  They had a dam but that was it.  No pipe, water tank, taps etc.  The most difficult issue was that there are three parts to the village, each on its own hill top.  With the engineer present, he explained that a tank would be built on the highest part of the village and have pipes run to the other two hilltops.  It seems fairly easy but over 9km of pipe to this section of the village is a lot..no wonder the cost estimated, is so high.  This is going to be quite a challenge to raise over $70,000…and this doesn’t include water filters.

Next, they took us to the current water source…I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go…especially when they started to chuckle to themselves.  I took the challenge.

This is a zoom shot that I took as we got to a viewpoint on the way down.

This is a zoom shot that I took as we got to a viewpoint on the way down.

This gives you some perspective of the terrain...so difficult.  I think it was the women and children that collected the water in the mornings and evenings.

This gives you some perspective of the terrain…so difficult. I think it was the women and children that collected the water in the mornings and evenings.

The size of the bamboo pipe was just the thickness of a baby finger, cut in half.  It must take foever to fill the jugs.

The size of the bamboo pipe was just the thickness of a baby finger, cut in half. It must take foever to fill the jugs. You can see the mother and kids in the distance.

Can you imagine having to climb that with a kid AND water jugs on your back?

Can you imagine having to climb that with a kid AND water jugs on your back?

They held a surprise Baci celebration of friendship for us.  As you can see, they slaughtered a chicken.  I think they hoped that we would remember them while we struggle with a decision.

They held a surprise Baci celebration of friendship for us. As you can see, they slaughtered a chicken. I think they hoped that we would remember them while we struggle with a decision. This picture was taken just before the baci started.

After heading to a guesthouse for the night, and struggling to find food for our guests to eat, we headed to two more villages the following day.  The first was to a village and school.  The school officials were waiting for our arrival.  We noted that the village seemed a little wealthier than the rest with many of the homes built with cement, a far cry from where we had just been the day before.  The school however was a bit of a surprise.  An organization built the school in 2009 but it was never finished – they never came back to officially open the school and the contractor took off.  I suspect he took off with the rest of the funds and promised to finish it but never did.

You will note that the ceiling is missing.  We also found out that the contractors only supplied 15 desks for the students...for the entire 5 room school, instead of 15 desks per room.

You will note that the ceiling is missing. We also found out that the contractors only supplied 15 desks for the students…for the entire 5 room school, instead of 15 desks per room.

As a side note, we will be attempting to contact the French organization that built it.  2009 is a long time ago.  It makes  you wonder if they are even aware.  Meanwhile we have applied to a Canadian organization for funding of the desks.

The kids exercise period.  I started to join in, to the kids delight, but John wouldn't go for it.

The kids exercise period. I started to join in, to the kids delight, but John wouldn’t go for it.

We visited a good chunk of the village too.  While some of the homes were bamboo, there sure were a lot of families that we would consider wealthy.  Without a formal proposal, complete with a survey, diagrams and a materials list, we won’t proceed until we get them.  Even then, we will have to find a way to simply subsidize it, as opposed to paying for everything.

Our last village was interesting.  It was located on a different range of mountain tops.  There were actually two villages.  The first village cut the water supply to the second village because there was a shortage of water.  The second village does have a tank though along with pipes in the village and taps (although dry of course).  We will again wait for the survey to see if the current dam will be sufficient to run a second pipe to the village but it will have to wait for another year because our time is running out.

Siphan, with the engineer in front of the existing tank.

Siphan, with the engineer in front of the existing tank.

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The first village, that cut off the supply to this one.

The first village, that cut off the supply to this one.

It was a tough week for us.  With Joan and John leaving us, Gary from Richmond Hill gone now and Ian from New Zealand also returning to his home, it sure is quiet here. I regret that we couldn’t do more with all of them but it is very late in our season and of course cashflow becomes the name of the game so we have to be careful.

We have one last trip to make with the last guests – one is here already and the other arrives in three days, then it is homeward bound for another fundraising season.  Having said that, I have been working with my airline consolidator since January 7th and they still can’t confirm a return flight for me.  They made a mistake when Korean made a schedule change.  The consolidator changed my flight – Instead of going from Luang Prabang to Hanoi to Seoul, Korea then to Toronto, they changed it so that I fly from Luang Prabang to Hanoi after my return to Toronto which is physcially impossible to actually fly.  As such, I still don’t have a confirmed flight.  It has taken forever and I am worried.

 

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4 days, 3 nights in the Rural Villages

It has been a while since our last update and I attribute that to poor internet here.  I paid $140 US for fast internet (per month for 3 months) and it was fine for about 5 weeks and now I am lucky if I can even log on.

We managed to return to Nong Boakham for the final round of filters for the village.  Those who have read my previous entry about this village wil remember that not everyone was there to receive their filters, and several had been broken in transit.  So we were finally able to complete the village.

She would make an amazing poster child, don't you think?

She would make an amazing poster child, don’t you think?

As you can see, some of the families are pretty large, and all living in a small bamboo shack

As you can see, some of the families are pretty large, and all living in a small bamboo shack

With the arrival of our two newst visitors from The Rotary Club of Scarborough, we were excited for our next adventure,  Joan and John have been a delight to be with and while Joan is well seasoned, working in third world countries, I think it has been an eye-opener for John in some respects.

John and Joan, from Scarborough, Ontario

John and Joan, from Scarborough, Ontario

We started with an easy day by taking them to Kwangsi Water Falls and Bear Reserve, just 45 minutes from Luang Prabang.  Along the way though we stopped at a secondary school to review there request for additional rooms.  We looked at the sight and they had already installed the posts and roof.  Their request was for $4,000 US to finish the school.  Upon closer inspection, we found a lot of issues with their request.  First, the posts were very small, and the roof trusses and support beams were much too thin to hold the roof during the heavy monsoon rains so we would need to double up on the wood to give it stability.  The other issue was that there was no overhang to speak of…roof overhangs of at least 2 1/2 metres are standard with every school.  Despite our concerns, we spent the next day reviewing their request and putting together a full materials lists.  Our estimates were just over $18,000 US without consideration for school furniture or the material needed to shore up the roof.  We would also have to either rebuild the roof or construct a separate overhang.  In summary, I really don’t want to put our name on something that I consider to be substandard.  Their reason for putting in a much lower price was because they couldn’t attract any NGO’s to assist them.

Current structure, completed just a month ago. You ay be able to see the very basic construction of the roof.

Current structure, completed just a month ago. You ay be able to see the very basic construction of the roof.

After dinner and a good nights rest for our guests, we took them to the UXO Office (Unexploded Ordinance Museum).  To see the movie, still pulls at my heart strings.  The secret war was such a disaster for everyone and an embarassment for the US. Afterwards we headed back to my house and sorted through all the goodies our guests had brought, in preparation for our trip.  Here are just a few of the items.

Sport jerseys, socks, shorts, school supplies, dental products, toys, ballons, whistles. I thought I saw a kitchen sink too...

Sport jerseys, socks, shorts, school supplies, dental products, toys, ballons, whistles. I thought I saw a kitchen sink too…

The following morning we started out 4 day, 3 night road trip to various villages. Nothing is easy to get to of course so we took our time.  Our first stop was to visit a kindergarten in Phonsavanh and to distribute uniforms for a rather large team.  I have video too.

Cute as a button

Cute as a button.  Joan was rather impressed with the layout of the room…everything in its proper place.

Lots of goodies handed out, courtesy of our fellow Rotarians and friends from Scarborough

Lots of goodies handed out, courtesy of our fellow Rotarians and friends from Scarborough

Thanks to Afrisoccer in Whitby, Ontario, who receives used uniforms from the local sports teams, thse uniforms have a second life! We watched them playing too...it was hard to imagine 24 kids running after the ball..until now!

Thanks to Afrisoccer in Whitby, Ontario, who receives used uniforms from the local sports teams, thse uniforms have a second life! We watched them playing too…it was hard to imagine 24 kids running after the ball..until now!

One of the trip highlites and reasons that Joan and John came was to teach feminine hygiene and general hygiene to the secondary school girls. During secondary and high school, many of the girls drop out, often because the girls are embarassed during that special time of the month.  As cheap as they are, many can’t afford to buy the hygiene pads in these rural villages so we decided to start a test project for a year in hopes that more girls will attend school and the dropout rate will fall, especially if we provide the pads for them (on a quarterly basis).

108 girls all crammed into one classroom.

108 girls all crammed into one classroom.  John must have been making funny faces outside the classroom…kidding…we put him to work doing something else.

I started the session by teaching about bacteria, using my sparkle demonstration as described in my previous posts. Then I made a hasty exit so the girls wouldn't be embarassed that I was there.

I started the session by teaching about bacteria, using my sparkle demonstration as described in my previous posts. Then I made a hasty exit so the girls wouldn’t be embarassed that I was there.

Meanwhile John and local volunteers packaged up the hygiene kits in preparation for distribution

Meanwhile John and local volunteers packaged up the hygiene kits in preparation for distribution

Joan continued the course through our wonderful translator and Siphan's wife, Leung.

Joan continued the course through our wonderful translator and Siphan’s wife, Leung. Leung has been a teacher and was well respected.

I had actually thought that one of the ladies would come and do the handouts but they all seemed to disappear!

I had actually thought that one of the ladies would come and do the handouts but they all seemed to disappear!

As it happened, the day we arrived was the same day the school hosted a volleyball tournament. This kept the boys occupied and was a lot of fun to watch - lots of commaraderie, singing, chanting...just like home!

As it happened, the day we arrived was the same day the school hosted a volleyball tournament. This kept the boys occupied and was a lot of fun to watch – lots of commaraderie, singing, chanting…just like home!

We also walked around the back of the school to take a peek at the dormitories.  It is a rural village to begin with but many come from even smaller villages to live and go to school.

Standing outside one of the miniature huts. They cook and sleep here - minimum two students per bamboo hut. We did notice that a dormitory was under construction

Standing outside one of the miniature huts. They cook and sleep here – minimum two students per bamboo hut. We did notice that a dormitory was under construction

You will notice all the huts crammed together

You will notice all the huts crammed together

It is hard to imagine but with the new dorm, the kids have even less personal space but at least it is permanent and dry.

It is hard to imagine but with the new dorm, the kids have even less personal space but at least it is permanent and dry.

We continued up to complete distribution of our last water filters and then to Katang Xieng for an inspection.

The addition to the Katang Xieng School is well underway.

The addition to the Katang Xieng School is well underway.

We hope that the school addition will be almost complete by the time I head back to Canada in April

We hope that the school addition will be almost complete by the time I head back to Canada in April

Tonight we will take our guests to a Lao BBQ.  That should be interesting.