Final Villages Trip for the 17/18 Season

It has been a bit of a scramble to fit in the last of the commitments for the various projects. Plus, with our budget starting to run low we squeezed everything in one last trip to the villages, before my return trip to Canada and our next fundraising campaign begins for the 2018/19 season.

First, we decided to head to Mok Kok (pronounced Moke Koke) Secondary School and village located way off the beaten path.  This was to review their requirements for a permanent water supply for next year.  As we got about halfway, the village chief called us to say it was pouring rain there and suggested we cancel the visit for the day – the mud roads would be impossible to navigate, so instead we continue north along the main road past Nong Khiaw to another secondary school located in the highlands.

Secondary School girls are thankful for their feminine pads. 146 female students. We try to visit quarterly.

Many of these girls would have stopped going to school during their monthly period and some would even quit school so it was nice to see so many female students there.

Afterwards, the teachers were eager to play boon (Khmu) with us (or patung in Lao).  I hadn’t played in about 10 years.  Siphan and I won the first game (thanks to him, not me) and lost the second game (thanks to me). We headed back to Nong Khiaw for the evening, since the rain had pretty much stopped us from going anywhere else.

Early the next day, we took the 2 1/2 hour journey to Mok Kok, and were lucky it didn’t rain, although there was still lots of mud everywhere.

Beside me are three english teachers and the school director. This is their shared office and dormitory at the secondary school.  Note the bamboo walls.

It should be noted that only 6 out of 17 teachers are actually on salary. The fellow (husband of the lady) still is not on salary, after 8 years.  So both are living on her small salary.  I did a video clip about the proposed project and will share it when it is edited into the main video that is being prepared.

From there, we headed straight to Ban Xiengda for a quick lunch and to inspect the completion of the project.  They still have a fair bit of pipe to bury but at least everything is operational and working well.

One of many newly constructed tap towers. They prefer this height so the younger kids can reach the tap.

Our amazing donors! This sign will be permanently mounted near the entrance to the village.

The water tank, now completed – I took a peek inside and sure enough, it was full of precious water for the village.

We took the truck as far as we could, then hiked down to one of the dams. There wasn’t quite enough pressure from one, so a second one was built.

The three compartments hold various sizes of gravel – more like rocks in the first stage, followed by smaller stones and then fine gravel in the last stage. The wooden gate is pretty much closed during this time of the dry season. The chief assigns maintenance duties for regular cleaning and inspection.

There were a lot of hills and valleys during this 5.5km run. The water line is suspended by steel cable supported by cement posts on either side so that the pipe doesn’t get damaged or washed away durng the monsoon season.  This had just been completed about an hour before we arrived.  I guess the engineer wanted to make sure we would pay him in full.

A few years ago we had seen the results of a water project that was completed by another NGO.  They ran the water pipe right through the river…and of course it was washed away during the first rainy season.  As a result, that village no longer had water.

With just a couple of weeks to go, we are busily completing a whole series of documents and closing reports for our many selfless donors.  Through so much amazing generosity, over 4,000 more rural villagers (this year alone) would be without hope of a better future.  Rotary Clubs from Southern Ontario, Gravenhurst, Lunenberg Nova Scotia, plus Ladner, Coquitlam Sunrise and Tsawwassen from the British Columbia west coast were the primary sponsors of the water projects.  Many, many more private sponsors and Friends of Rotary, plus Rotaract has helped us to help so many.  The prayers of thousands have been answered.  Thank You!

In a few days, I am off to Cambodia for some dental work, then on to Canada.


A Poem, by Diana Cabott

I would be remiss, if I didn’t include the latest poem our visiting poet from the Rotary Club of Ladner.  These were her thoughts;

The Third Tale of Laos

We were deep in the heart of Laos

The travel had been long, the road very hard.

Our families behind us..really only here a short time.

But surely enough for Bassi, Lao Lao and wine.

The pampas grass is as high, as the elephants eye.

And the mountains, well, they reach for the sky.

Some of us are young, and some of us are old.

The gifts we have brought to Laos 

It is to our hearts have brought the gold.

Looking back though I realize this trip was not the same

For this time a vision to me it came.

The vision I saw was not written in the sand.

No, in fact shining in the face of a man.

For I have seen serenity.

In the very face of a man.

They say he is humble.

They say a good man.

I don’t really know him, he is a stranger to me.

But clearly now, will no longer be.

Although these times will pass year after year

The memories we have now

Will always be clear.

7 Villages, Part 2

The excitement was in the air…at least for me. 3 couples arrived from our Whitby Sunrise Rotary Club after waiting for so many years!

I had prepared an itinerary for them of course – I think it may have been the first one that I didn’t have to change on the fly, due to accessibility, road, coordination and weather issues.  That in itself was a pleasant surprise.

We took it relatively easy for the next day-and-a-half, spending time in Luang Prabang City and Kwangsi Waterfalls for a swim.  I knew the next couple of days would be long, even though they are a slightly younger group and up for just about anything.

The next morning we headed north and then west to the distant rural village of Huey Yim to distribute 142 water filters.  It takes a good three hours to teach and distribute so there wasn’t much time to waste and since the drive there was about 2 1/2 hours, plus we needed to be back by dark.  I wish I had managed to take a few more pictures but my attention was drawn elsewhere.

As you can see, smiles didn’t exactly come natural to everyone.

The Team (L-R): Driver’s son, Siphan, Debbie, Mark, Second Chief, Barry, Third Chief, Steve, Kerry (hiding in the back), First Chief, Jeff and Sue.  While it doesn’t show in the picture, the mostly Hmong Tribe were all smiles when it came to accepting a gift for better health and longer life.

The next morning we headed off to the mountain village of Phoukou, the location of our Rotary club water project for the year…another very busy day!  This was a much bigger celebration because the official day for a permanent water supply had finally arrived and the village declared it a holiday so that all would attend the celebration.  This was wonderful because it meant we could get water filter pictures with entire families (rather than just one or two members, as with Huey Yim where most of the family members were in their rice fields, preparing for the upcoming season).

We started with the filter distribution for 83 families.  It turned out to be a bit more challenging with the entire village population there, but, you can see the results.

Barry, Kerry and Jeff joined in to the picture, for HMA Insurance, who sponsored the filter (and many others).  The average Hmong family size is not less than 6 – often around 10-12.

While it was going to be a late celebration, we knew we would lose the kids quickly, so we did a distribution of school supplies and canned fish for each student of the school, along with rattan balls and net, and a frisbee.

It started off quite orderly.

But soon, it was utter chaos! We couldn’t tell who were students and who weren’t. Fortunately we had enough supplies. It should be noted that all of the school supplies were donated by our amazing visitors, as with the Vancouver Rotarians the previous week.

The village was extremely grateful, but did have one more request for us.  They are sending a formal request to build a school there.  I am told that many of the classes are held under a tree for the year 1 and 2 students because they can’t walk the distance uphill to the upper section of the village, around 4km away.

Next up was the celebration and ceremony.

While the lighting wasn’t great under the bright sun, certificates of thanks were provided to us for the Rotary Clubs of Whitby Sunrise, Bowmanville, Adopt A Village in Laos and Siphan, with whom, made it all happen for the village.  There was also the pipe wrench transfer to mark the official closure of the project.

After the offical Baci ceremony, there was a lot of food. The chief had strategically placed a goat head in front of me! I had thought it was as a religious or symbolic gesture but it was more than that.

Debbie had just got over her urge to wretch when they tore apart a cooked chicken and gave the offerings to us and our team had just left the dining area, when I got called to return.  Thank God Siphan was there.  They had split open the head of the goat and were scooping out the brain, followed by the forwarding of the first scoop directly to my mouth.  I was having none of that of course and somehow, I managed to redirect the spoon to Siphan’s bowl, who ate it with sheer glee.

We continued the celebration with Beer Lao and cheered with the village families as we slowly worked our way through the crowd, then headed up a relatively small hill to the water tank.

I am sure the entire village would have climbed up there to be with us, if there was space.

Our work wasn’t over though.  It was time for some sweat equity!

We levelled the ground for the last water tap tower and this picture identifies exactly what I do best!… Pretend to manage the workers…lol

This was a great shot of Barry’s handiwork. Needless to say that the ground was very hard – the workers used hoes as Barry tried to use a shovel….perhaps not the same quality we use at home…

As part of the ceremony, we presented the sign to the village. They will mount it with a roof over it ar the entrance to their village. Thanks to all of our very generous Rotary sponsors from three different districts and from some very special friends.

While we were preparing the site for the last water tap, the wood forms had just been moved into place, in preparation for the mixing and pouring of cement.  I had been watching the heavy clouds form and could see rain in the distance.  Being in a mountain range, rain was easy to spot. The engineer came to Siphan and I, and gently suggested that we may wish to leave because the rain was headed our way.  It was warm enough and the rain in itself wouldn’t have been a serious issue, but we were reminded that the rain looked heavy enough that the road down the mountain was likely to be impassable!  That was all we needed to hear.  10 minutes later we were waiving our good byes to the villagers.  We actually made it down the mountain and onto the main road before the rains came….and boy did the come…in torrents.  By that time, we were only 15 minutes from the guest house.  Barry complained that a little bit of his shoulder got wet (he was against the back of the cab) and Jeff mentioned that his feet got a little wet (seated beside Barry).  The rest were absolutely drenched!  One of our guests did take a picture, and here it is.Thanks Mark for providing the picture.

Do you think this is inhumane treatment of our guests? Sue and Kerry still have smiles…or is that clenching?

During the last day in the villages, I wanted to focus on the culture and beauty of the north so arranged to drive to Nong Khiaw, had breakfast then headed to the boat dock.  From there we travelled to Meung Ngoi, checked in, had a refreshment and then headed further upriver to the location of the dam, under construction.

Enjoying a refreshment along the Ou River in Meung Ngoi with a great group of wonderful friends…note that Debbie had her secret little stash of rye in he mug, rather than Beer Lao…

Since river traffic was closed, a tuk tuk took us around the dam to another boat, driven by the Hat Kham chief.  It was pretty small for the group of us and very low on the water.  We noticed Mark was helping to bail the water out as we took the short journey to Hat Kam Village.  (We took three boats back) The scenery along the way was breathtaking as always and our visitors took a lot of pictures.

Miss Lai received the highest marks of her school and was invited to write an exam for the title for the District. Diana rom our Vancouver Group left some gifts for Miss Lai for me to deliver. As an award for her achievement, we also gave her a $50 US bill for her to cherish.  I doubt that she had ever seen one.

In addition to the scenic boat ride, I had wanted to get an update of the condition of Hatkham village – it had been a couple of years since I was there last and there has been a lot of progress, with the village plan to move to their new village location starting August 1st.  The dam developer is currently building new housing for each family, along with a school, water supply and electricity.  I didn’t ask but it is also normal for the developer to build cook huts and outdoor latrines for each family too….a vast improvement to what they have now.  It is expected that within two years, the school we built will be 75 feet under water in the planned reservoir.

After a night in Meung Ngoi, we headed back to Luang Prabang, stopping at Siphan’s fish and goat farm along the way.  Once In Luang Prabang, we enjoyed a farewell dinner together.  I sure miss them.







7 villages With Water Filters, 2 Water Supply projects and a Cultural Centre

With just weeks to go before my return, I think I can say that this season has been the most successful in our 9 year history.  With more projects in a season than ever before, more water filters than ever before and so many great friends who visited with us to make a difference in this impoverished part of the world.

After the last 3 weeks of village visits, and reporting back to each water filter donor, I can now catch up a little.

Our Vancouver team from the Rotary Clubs of Ladner, Coquitlam Sunrise and the Coquitlam Noon Club, a past exchange student from Belgium from our own Whitby Sunrise Club, along with other friends joined us for a whirlwind tour.  We started with a distribution of water filters to the rural village of Nakhaeng.  Some of us walked to the ferry and some went with Siphans truck to cross the Mekong River.  From there is was a 1 1/2 hour journey by oversized Tuk Tuk…well it actually took a little longer than that, because our Tuk Tuk broke down, so we had to wait for tractors to come and pick us up!  It didn’t seem to lower the spirits of our group though.  It turned out be a pretty busy day!


We did a hygiene course and distribute 66 water filters, for 65 families and the school.

Everybody was getting pretty hungry but we managed to squeeze a session to provide all the students with school supplies and a can of fish, along with rattan balls and a net, and a frisbee! From left to right is Mike (ok, his belly), Preet, Kathy, Andrea, Diana, Sandra, Beau and Dawn….sorry Mike.

This was followed by a typical baci ceremony (spiritual offering) and the singing chant was abbreviated so everyone could eat.  We had been delayed quite a bit by the truck so had to high tail it of there in order to get back to Luang Prabang for our Valentine’s dinner.

I knew we would be late so headed straight there from the boat, while people took showers, and the staff was kind enough to hold off the cultural entertainment for us….so kind.

Our team!

We headed north to Ban Xiengda the following day, where the large water project was being completed.  After checking into our guest house, it was time for some sweat equity!

It is amazing to see the entire Khmu side of the village involved in the water tank construction.

Here are Preet (Coquitlam Sunrise Rotary), Sandra Okeeffe (Ladner Rotary) and Vincent Schippers (past Rotary exchanged student from the Whitby Sunrise Club.

Ok, so we may have slowed things down a bit with the cement mixing and so forth, but we were good entertainment for the village…

We headed to the school for the celebration, baci and presentation, but wanted to have some fun with the students first…Can you guess what song? Head and Shoulders…

The teachers. Kevin was the teacher – we just assisted as you can tell.

Lots of speeches. Note that this school is not one of ours.

Everyone was presented with a small gift as a thanks for the support.

…and certificates of appreciation

We had done a lot already during this short trip but there was lots more to come.

Our team headed up to the village Huey Kheun to teach the villagers how to install solar street lights.  Siphan never ceases to amaze me with his aptitude and nothing more than a knife, a tree trunk and a couple of other pieces of wood….oh, and a few nails.

These solar street lights were donated by a very generous Singapore Group.  Each family was also given a solar light for their home (the smaller units shown in the bottom centre of the picture.

In about 20 minutes, the pole was prepared and installed with the light! Special thanks to Steve at the Alton Hotel in Singapore who has made a positive difference for this village.

Some of the team headed further to Katang Xieng, as they wanted to see the new school we finished last year (with one of the rooms being sponsored by Global Change For Children).  The rest of us headed back to Nong Khiaw because Siphans truck couldn’t hold all of us and a minivan would never have been able to make it, with the bad roads.

On the way back to Luang Prabang, we had one more stop to make.  Ban Nong Kham…for another distribution of filters.

56 families received these and of course, they wouldn’t let us go without another Baci ceremony and celebration!

As you can see, we accomplished a lot in just 5 days!  What an amazing accomplishment!  They all headed to Cambodia for some well deserved R&R.  Can you blame them?  Meanwhile I had just a couple of hours to prepare for our next group of guests!