Christmas 2017

What were you doing on Christmas Day?  I trust all of you had the best Christmas ever, with family and friends.  For me, I was with my Lao families and friends, although mssing everyone at home too.

We started off on Christmas Eve and headed up to Nong Khiaw for the night.  It is a place I like to kick back a bit and enjoy everything life has to offer.  It was nippy for us, dropping to 7 at night with no heat anywhere (restaurants are outdoors), but the comforter was nice and warm!

On Christmas morning we headed up with materials to Ban Phone, about 2 1/2 hours further north, as we near completion of the project.  It was pretty exciting to see!  You could see the villagers waiting in anticipation.  The Centre will be named the David Howe Cultural Centre and while handicrafts, primarily basket weaving for about 40 different products will be made, it will also be a teaching centre that will instruct the younger villagers how to do the craft, with an eyeful watch by the elders.  It is also an opportunity for the elders to tell the stories of the past, about the culture of the Khmu people so that their culture is not forgotten.  Further we hope to expand this into textile weaving, canvas art, music and dance, among other attractions.  This is the perfect way to assist the elders to continue with their valuable contributions for their families and the Khmu people.

We are told that the cultural centre will be finished within 3 weeks, including the washrooms which haven’t been started yet. Here are a few snaps.

The David Howe Cultural Centre, nearing completion.

A Villager shows his expertise in the magic of weaving a rice basket.

It wasn’t long before another villager joined him, anxious to show off his handwork too. Do you notice the netting on his head? No, it wasn’t to keep his hair in place. Funny guy – he had the left over netting from a bag of oranges we took for the group…

We headed back to Luang Prabang with many stops along the way.  One of them was to buy winter coats for a village family.  Another was to get the contracts for an upcoming water project in Ban Xiengda signed by the village chief, water engineer and District Hygiene Office.  A couple of Beer Lao’s later, we headed to a place just north of Luang Prabang to pick up the large sign for the centre.  It is interesting to note that this was done by students from a fine art school.  I was unaware they even had one here in Luang Prabang.

The students are all poor of course so were anxious to show us their aptitude and receive payment so they can spend it durig the upcoming New Year.  I was pretty impressed with the results.

Work in progress by a 4th year student.

Khammon, on the left, was the one that did all the work. The fellow n the right was asked to step in at the last minute because Khammon is very shy. I am so impressed that it took only a day to make and an extra day or so to finish. Now, we just have to figure out how to mount the sign at the school. There will be a second sign, not as fancy, to than all of our generous donors.  It should be noted that everything was done with chisels.


New Projects Underway in Northern Luang Prabang Province

With our fundraising season pretty much wrapped up (although we are still trying to raise funds for another 18 water filters to be able to do 7 complete villages (3100 villagers), I sit here in Luang Prabang City with a hoodie and jacket over the hoodie along with numb finger. It is the heart of their winter season which will last only a few days this year.  Last night the temperature dropped to 5 Celsius – wouldn’t be bad at all if there was heat in the houses.  It is slowly starting to warm up inside though.

This season we hit the road running with our first filter distribution to two villages, just four days after I arrived.  Ron Postma from the Rotary Club of Coquitlam Sunrise, and a friend of a Rotarian from our Whitby Sunrise Rotary Club came for the experience and to see just what we do!

A group of kids happy to see us

This day was a fairly easy drive.  We picked Colin up at the airport on our way out of town and drove straight to the site in a 4 x 4 pickup truck packed with lots of goodies, including our lunch.  We never know what to expect so took it with us.

These villagers had all assembled and were waiting for us as we arrived, all in anticipation of what was to come.

We were not expecting such a welcome and we still had to setup the filters and label.  But they were having none of that until we were properly welcomed.

It felt like We Three Kings…all the elders and VIP’s were at tables to the sides of us. beside me is Ron, sporting his blue Rotary shirt, and Colin, who we picked up right from the airport.

Once the initial announcements and thank you’s were over, we took the opportunity to teach the villagers about proper hygiene and filter maintenance right there.

This lady won one of our skill testing questions at the end – received a sportshirt. We didn’t realize at the time that she was the head of the women of the village.

Ron, from the Coquitlam Sunrise Rotary Club, putting our donor labels on the filters

Filters unpackaged, labelled and ready to go – 130 of them. Without our many donors, these villagers would continue to suffer the rest of their lives.

We kept two for the school too. Even the kids knew that they weren’t going to have diarrhea any more. One of these was donated by the Durham Beer Run Club.

The day ended with many thank you’s, a baci, plus lots of Lao Lao whiskey, Beer Lao and dancing.

Baci celebration to remove bad spirits, and pray for health, wealth and long life.

That was a heck of a first day!  Nobody complained of a hangover but I suspect there were a couple.

The next day was a very long day into the mountains and we tried to take pictures of the ride up to the village but there was just no way.  The road was pretty bad – glad we used a truck..even then the tires were slipping and sliding in spots.  It was worth the trip of course but after 3 very long hours, it was tough on the back for those in the back of the truck.  When we arrived, the villagers of Ban Lao Lao were few and far between.  As we understand, they knew we were coming but because it is such a remote village, with rare interaction with the outside world, they don’t understand what days of the week are, let alone days of the month.  One day is the same as the next for them so I don’t think they new exactly when we were coming.

Because it is so far, we were very limited with time in the village.  We sent a villager around with our loudspeaker to gather the villagers while the three of us set up water filters under the hot sun, and two villagers put up a tarp we had brought.  It took forever to gather the villagers so some of them missed the training.  We did get their neighbors to promise to teach them on our behalf but I will have to go back to ensure the filters are getting cleaned properly and used.

As a result we didn’t really have time to get pictures other than the families themselves.

Mom and Daughter

This Hmong Village is very shy. It was difficult to get them to pose for the camera, let alone smile. Still, they were very grateful.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay for the baci they were preparing for us.  It took so long to get the pictures of the families, we had to leave be 3pm to ensure we could get back to the main road by dark.  I had visions of eating fat soup for dinner and sleeping on a mud floor, although I have done it before…but our guests hadn’t.

Concurrently, we have two large projects happening at the same time.  The David Howe Cultural Centre is nearing completion but I haven’t been up there to see the progress yet.  I think we will head up that way on Christmas Eve, spend the night in Nong Khiaw, and visit on Christmas Day.  I will get pictures of course.

The other large project that is well underway is the PhouKoud water project.  This will bring a permanent source of water from the Thong Thuen Water Tank, located about 6.7 km further up and into the mountains, where we did last year’s water project. There will be two substations to reduce the water pressure in the pipe and taps throughout the village.  Initially, the engineer had estimated 6.3km but we got the call yesterday that they needed another 400 metres…good job we had a contingency fund.  This project is funded primarily by Rotary Clubs in Southern Ontario, but there will be more about this in a future blog entry.

Water pipe being unloaded from one of the trucks. You can imagine the weight of it. It takes four people.

They look like a pretty proud group, don’t you think?

We passed these villagers on the way to Ban La La. The villagers were hard at work, as you can see. It is rather interesting – it takes three people to hold the pipe and unwind it as the 4th person pulls it into the forest along the intended route.  I have been told that water is already running to the upper part of the village.  The two parts of PhouKoud are almost a km apart.

Trenching in Thong Thuen, for the long journey to the PhouKhoud…6.7km away. Each family is required to provide labour.  It is interesting to note that the Hmong men and women participate in trenching.  In Khmu villages, it is usually just the women.

A junior villager watches on as the work progresses.

Lots more updates to come!