The Road to Paradise

It was so sad to see everyone leave a couple at a time but I suppose the highlight was when Dawn (my sister) and Beau managed to visit after o many years of hearing me talk about it.

While I was busily reporting to the donors, Siphan headed to a small village near the Plain of Jars, Ban Napia with or Italian friends to assist in the distribution of 62 water filters there.  As I understand, it went without incident although there was some heavy drinking afterwards with the villagers there.

Ban Napia water filters donated by the sponsors of Ink For Charity.

Ban Napia water filters donated by the sponsors of Ink For Charity.

So next up was to make another attempt at Thong Thuen.  The water filters were supposed to be there already but the rains had prevented the deliveries so they were stored at his mom’s house.  While our guests were here, Siphan had rushed down to Phonsavanh (Nambak District) while we were visiting Meung Ngoi, to relocate these filters yet again to his dormitory complex, for fear of theft.  The previous night his dad woke and found that the cover for the filters had been removed.  It was likely the thieves were interrupted before anything could be taken.  So now it was time to move the filters again to the final destination…with five truckloads, this was accomplished.

I managed to take a shot of one of the trucks as they whizzed by the guesthouse.

I managed to take a shot of one of the trucks as they whizzed by the guesthouse.

Hmmmm….I am wondering how to describe the road condition.  The main road was fine but about 20 minutes later, we turned off.  It looked like we were heading into a driveway full of huge potholes..gong about 3km per hour.  Most of you would not be able to imagine just how poor the road was.  Lots of muck in places, reasonably dry in others, steep inclines but the huge craters, potholes slowed us to a snails pace for abot 1 1/2 hours…but as the cloud deck rose, so did we.  Yes it was a bitch to get there but it was undoubtedly worth it.

I really hoped that our visitors could have experienced this view...just stunning and this was only half way.

I really hoped that our visitors could have experienced this view…just stunning and this was only half way.

I wish I cold have taken pictures of the actual road but it was so bumpy I am sure any attempt at aiming would have directed the camera to a tree of something.  We were on a constant incline too…so no stopping.  What a difference a year makes.  Last year we could have gone most of the way by minivan.

Upon our arrival, the three of us got straight to work, preparing the water filters for distribution, then went straight into training after a few announcements from the District Governor.  The village was so appreciative and obeyed our one order…to smile for the camera…perhaps the most fun loving bunch we have seen for a long time.  The last two filters were reserved for the bamboo school and for the teacher who was off somewhere during his day off….not impressed.  I had one of the villagers promise to go through the basic training once the teacher returned.

The school children posing with the water filters

The school children posing with the water filters

The first pouring of clean water

The first pouring of clean water

The first sampling....ok I lied.  I took the first sample so they could see it was safe.

The first sampling….ok I lied. I took the first sample so they could see it was safe.

Following this there was the usual baci celebration and ceremony…it was CRAZY!  There is no way anyone could take pictures during the string frenzy.  Siphan and I have been to a lot of baci ceremonies before but NOTHING like this.  It was like we were in the middle of a mob and couldn’t even see daylight!  LOL It was fun though and even better because we were all sitting outside on chairs!

146 famiies tried to put strings on our wrists at the same time...this is the result.

146 famiies tried to put strings on our wrists at the same time…this is the result.

Before we left however, we were updated on the progress of the huge water project.  This project involves the construction of a dam, 9km of pipe, a large tank and taps throughout the village spread over three hilltops…for 146 families.  We are building the tank to be large enough to run a pipe next year to a village further downhill into another smaller tank (to be constructed next year also) to fulfill the dreams of a Hmong village).  Here are some pictures;

Each family has been given the task of trenching a section of land for the pipe.  We do not allow the pipe to sit on top of the land because torrential rains can damage or destroy the connections.

Each family has been given the task of trenching a section of land for the pipe. We do not allow the pipe to sit on top of the land because torrential rains can damage or destroy the connections.

The District engineer standing by the water tank.  Today they have taken away the supporting wood and are building the top with access panel.

The District engineer standing by the water tank. Today they have taken away the supporting wood and are building the top with access panel.

As you can see, the water is already running...this was done first, to the euphoria of the villagers.

As you can see, the water is already running…this was done first, to the euphoria of the villagers.

It is hard to explain just how excited the villagers were to have water, for the first time ever in their village.  That was an exciting day and lots of celebration afterwards.  We received about a half dozen calls from the village to tell us just how happy they were.

The project should be complete in just a few weeks.  We are hoping to add an additional three taps but will see if the funding comes through.  Stay tuned…

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And The Rains Came…

Who would have thought….in January, which is the dry season?  We had planned the itinerary for our many guests down to a tee and checked the forecast daily.  Experiencing no rain and beautiful temperatures since my arrival in November, I thought the coast was clear…until just 10 days before the first guest were to arrive…and the forecast kept getting worse!  We were expecting the temperatures to drop significantly like they did last year (down to -1 at night last year) but the temperature did not drop….but heavy rain came and came heavy, nonstop in the areas we would be travelling to.  It did let up in Luang Prabang and wasn’t as bad as the forecast but still, it made for major changes in our travel plans.  We even rented 4 x 4’s but the road to the main village located in the highlands, was simply impassable, even by tractor…so through lots of discussion and planning behind the scenes with our coordinator Siphan, we came up with B, even after delaying the road trip by a day.  The rain had stopped but it takes days for some of the roads to dry out so Thong Thuen was out of the question.

Our team consisted of some great Rotarians and friends from the Ladner, Delta, Vancouver area, 3 from Toronto and Richmnd Hill, Ontario and two from Italy.  Several have been with us before. What amazing people!

Not sure why this turned out blurry! This was the welcome dinner to sample the Lao BBQ. The vene was changed because another deluge of rain was expected and this was a covered patio. Fortunately the rain held off until we were all cozy in our beds.

Not sure why this turned out blurry! This was the welcome dinner to sample the Lao BBQ. The vene was changed because another deluge of rain was expected and this was a covered patio. Fortunately the rain held off until we were all cozy in our beds. From left to right is Siphan, Lola, Tamara, Sandra, myself, Kathy, Sonia, Juey (student), Mike, Tanh (student), Beau and Dawn…Lizzie got hit with a bad flu bug right after the flight so opted to stay in bed. Gary and Boun also opted out due to other commitments.

We started the trip by heading to Ban Xienga to distribute 60 desks on behalf of one of our amazing donors, Global Change for Children.  Our team was extremely generous in purchasing school supplies for every child in the primary school and we had a few things for the kindergarten children too, includng handmade buttons by grade 5 students in a primary school in Scarborough, Ontario.  What a treat! Here are some highlites;

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Sincere Thanks to Our Generous Donors, Global Change For Children, operated out of Vancouver, Britich Columbia.

Kindergarten student receiving school supplies and a special button

Kindergarten student receiving school supplies and a special button

Primary Student (Grade 1) with my sister Dawn. Sonia and Sandra are in the background handing out school supplies.

Primary Student (Grade 1) with my sister Dawn. Sonia and Sandra are in the background handing out school supplies.

Each Class of students went in order of Grade, with the youngest grades going first.

Each Class of students went in order of Grade, with the youngest grades going first.

The Team! Instructors, School Director, Village Chief and our amazing volunteers. I finally see Lizzie in the back right corner, second from the left...

The Team! Instructors, School Director, Village Chief and our amazing volunteers. I finally see Lizzie in the back right corner, second from the left behind Mike Storey.

The school also held a baci ceremony for us, in honour of our visit.

The string part of the ceremony begins...

The string part of the ceremony begins…

with a little pandamonium of course. I wish I could insert all the pictures...

with a little pandamonium of course. I wish I could insert all the pictures…

From Ban Xiengda, we continued our journey to Nong Khiaw, a fairly famous tourist outpost on the Ou River to spend the evening.  Siphan kept in touch with our utimate destination village of Thong Thuen meanwhile, hoping that the road would be dry enough to travel to.  Meanwhile, plans were in the works for plan B.  In the morning we headed up to Phou Luang to distribute water filters, feminine hygiene pads for the secondary school girls (our guys were not invited) and sports equipment to the boys so they wouldn’t feel left out.  Mind you, the boys wanted condoms…lol.  The culture is very different here and we would certainly not be welcome by promoting sex through their use.  Most students do not have their first experience until after they graduate high school or university.

The road was fine until we got to the bottom of the village, but there was heavy rain overnight.  Our vehicles couldn’t make it up the short but steep driveway because of the clay type mud…so we worked our way up the edges using the grass where we could find…one minor mishap though…one of our guests decided to see what the mud felt like on her butt.  Fortunately she did not hurt herself.

Here are a few of the water filters distributed with our visitors;

With Diana and Tamara

With Diana and Tamara

With Dawn and Beau

With Dawn and Beau

with Sandra

with Sandra

With Sonia

With Sonia

With Mike and Kathy

With Mike and Kathy

Afterwards, we headed up to Meung Ngoi, the last tourist outpost in the province to spend the night.  After breakfast we had time to head to the caves.  Our guests wanted to try a tractor ride, after hearing about our experiences the year before…soooo…we got one.

This was NOT what I was expecting..this was like the rolls royce of tractors...even benches to sit on!

This was NOT what I was expecting..this was like the rolls royce of tractors…even benches to sit on!

I didn't bother to take pictures in the cave - too dark with our little flashlights.

I didn’t bother to take pictures in the cave – too dark with our little flashlights.

After heading back to Nong Khiaw, we decided that Thong Thuen, the main feature, would not be possible.  Instead, the next day we headed to Ban Phone to distribute gently used clothing and inspect the site for a possible project to build a Cultural Centre.

At least the weather was perfect.

It was quite a long drive and there were a couple of ruts in the road but nothing difficult.  A couple of the guests were rather surprised at the big ruts so I am glad I didn’t actually take them to Thong Thuen afterall!  That was nothing in comparison with what I usually see.

Sonia did her best to try to keep order but after a while, it was just impossible so the villagers basically helped themselves…what mass pandamonium but it turned out quite well I thought.  There didn’t seem to be any other way to do it, or it would have taken us many hours to distribute.  I think everyone enjoyed the experience and realized just how impoverished these villagers were. Sincere thanks to the Malay Group who managed to bring all of these clothes from their homes in Johore, Malaysia. Thank YOU!!!

The kids posing just before the uprising...lol

The kids posing just before the uprising…lol

Here we go

Here we go

Dawn and Sonia attempting to assist

Dawn and Sonia attempting to assist

View from above

View from above

From there we headed back to Luang Prabang, just in time to freshen up and head out for the Farewell Dinner on the Mekong.  It turned out to be a beautiful night too.  Eric, the owner even made special Lao Lao cocktails to welcome them…

Everybody showing off their strings on the last evening together.

Everybody showing off their strings on the last evening together.

It was bittersweet end to the trip.  I will miss every one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Years 2017 Project Update

Happy New Years to Everyone…I trust everyone has had their best holiday season ever?

There has been a lot of activity since arriving back to Laos in late November.  I have tried to keep up but as you can see, the blog entries have been few and far between.  Nursing a bad cold and a touch of bronchitis (along with just about everyone I know here), I am well on the mend but will be wearing a facemask to make sure I don’t pass it onto our guests.

While it was a tough year for fundraising, we had a number of donations come through at the last minute that allowed us to go ahead with the planned water project.  With a combination of individual Rotary Club donations, a Rotary District Matching Grant, and many private donors, we were able to raise the funds needed.  This was a huge relief.  As a result, we have shipped 98% of the materials up to the rural village of Thong Thuen including a little over 9km of pipe.

The trucks from Vientiane were off loaded to a staging area about 3 hours from the destination, where the villagers set up an overnight watch to make sure everything was still there in the morning.

The trucks from Vientiane were off loaded to a staging area about 3 hours from the destination, where the villagers set up an overnight watch to make sure everything was still there in the morning.  The trucks to the village were much smaller.

The roads had significantly deteriorated during the monsoon season but eventually made it to Thong Thuen.  Fortunately just one truck broke down on the way back (empty).  Still, it was hours of waiting for assistance, as Siphan can attest.

The roads had significantly deteriorated during the monsoon season but eventually made it to Thong Thuen. Fortunately just one truck broke down on the way back (empty). Still, it was hours of waiting for assistance, as Siphan can attest.  That is a lot of pipe.

Once that was done, we had to worry about a planned trip for a large group of visitors, primarily from Canada.  Realizing that there was no way our minivans were going to make it up the terrible roads, and that tractors or small open trucks were going to be suitable, the villagers have repaired some of the road damage.  Even with that, it was decided to rent 4 x 4’s to give our guests at least some level of comfort…

So next it was our duty to do our Christmas distribution of water filters to 251 families (including one for a school).  The villages of Khon Kheun and Thand Khand were completed.  One of the villages was located across the river from Pak Jeem that we had done 2 years earlier and the other was a further 45 minutes past Pak Jeem (near the new dam).  The last few km’s were a little rough but not as bad as I was expecting.  Here are some highlites.

Arrival of the filters to Pak Jeem.  Now THAT's a big truck!

Arrival of the filters to Pak Jeem. Now THAT’s a big truck!

Boats being loaded for the short trip across the river to Khon Kheun

Boats being loaded for the short trip across the river to Khon Kheun

Filters being readied for distribution with the addition of toothbrushes, toothpaste, labelling etc.  You can see one of our volunteers, Bob, a Canadian now living in Thailand.

Filters being readied for distribution with the addition of toothbrushes, toothpaste, labelling etc. You can see one of our volunteers, Bob, a Canadian now living in Thailand.  Kevin from Saskatchewan was also there..somewhere.

We are ready to go!

We are ready to go!

This one was distributed to the school. (A new one is under construction)

This one was distributed to the school. (A new one is under construction)

A sampling of students from the school

A sampling of students from the school

The start of hygiene training for the villagers in Thand Khand

The start of hygiene training for the villagers in Thand Khand

Demonstrating how bacteria spread using the coloured sparkle technique

Demonstrating how bacteria spread using the coloured sparkle technique

Who wouldn't want to wash their hands after I poured the bacteria (sparkles) on their hands?  Everyone was happy to share the same bucket of water to wash..needless to say, not only did a lot of bacteria (sparkles) stay on the hands, they picked up more (different colours) from others.  We got the point across to use the water from the filter, not from a shared bucket.

Who wouldn’t want to wash their hands after I poured the bacteria (sparkles) on their hands? Everyone was happy to share the same bucket of water to wash..needless to say, not only did a lot of bacteria (sparkles) stay on the hands, they picked up more (different colours) from others. We got the point across to use the water from the filter, not from a shared bucket.

With Bob, Kevin, Siphan, Khamdy and myself, we wait for the rest of the large crowd of elders to enter before starting the Baci ceremony.

With Bob, Kevin, Siphan, Khamdy and myself, we wait for the rest of the large crowd of elders to enter before starting the Baci ceremony.

Since then, we have celebrated Christmas and New Years.  Meanwhile, the District Water Engineer arrived to the village of Thong Thuen.  Every single villager that could work, helped to run over 9km of pipe, through rough terrain and across a small river (a pipe bridge still has to be built across the river) did it in just 2 1/2 days.  We received over a dozen phone calls from the village that day.  To say they were euphoric would be an understatement.  They have only imagined water running to their village, in their dreams.

With running water, the focus is on the dam and the water tank, followed by the tap stations and village piping.

The first of our large group of guests has arrived.  We will be receiving many more over the coming days, at which point a new journey begins…stay tuned.