SideTrips to the Countryside

With so many requests coming in, each requiring a site visit, it is so easy to fall behind.  During Mike and Daniels visit, they were sent off on a boat trip to see Muang Ngoi on the Ou River.  It had been a few years since Mike had been there and it was a beautiful day, so it gave us time to visit three other villages in order to review their requests.

For the first village of Nong Ein, where a small number of uniforms were dropped off to their small primary school.  This would allow them to compete in the primary school sports championships in Nong Khiaw coming up next month.  Uniforms are inexpensive here and without them, this poor village simply would not be invited to compete.

Two rattan balls and a net were also donated.

The team will be playing rattan ball and soccer against other villages in the Ngoi district. Sadly, many other rural villages will not be able to participate because they don’t have uniforms.

The second village we visited was actually just south of Nong Khiaw.  As we arrived we had seen that portions of the riverbank and road had fallen into the river (August monsoons).  There had been a temporary fix for one larger section, certainly not enough to withstand another monsoon.  In the other section, one lane had dropped out – the only protection was five or six skinny saplings in bright green bags blocking the lane that had fallen out.

The villagers have asked for help as we walked about 300 metres at the side of the road and climbed through the barrier fence to review several properties.  There was almost no property left.  Their entire property was pretty much washed away.  Imagine your property being 20-30 metres deep, all washed away except 3-5 metres (where the road wasn’t washed away too).

It is difficult to understand the magnitude of the damage but here you can see a small island to the right of the picture – there was no river there before.  It wasn’t particularly easy keeping one’s balance on the edge either.

This is a slightly better view – the tree stumps used to be on the land owned by villagers.

This was taken near the edge of the lane that fell out into the abyss. You will notice in the top left corner, new water pipe that has been run, supported by temporary cable.

We visited a third village that was particularly hard hit, even more than this one. As we approached the village, there were so many mudslides, visible by the lack of growth on the sides of the steep hills.  This village lost several huts into the river and 41 others had serious damage where they could no longer live there.  Fortunately the villagers heard it coming and evacuated so there were no deaths.  The government has since cleared a piece of land that they would like the villagers to move to, since the whole village has to be relocated but in our view, it is just too low and too close to the river itself.  The villagers are very nervous about moving there.  In addition, the local graveyard is located right above the cleared area and villagers are worried that their ancestors will wash over the village.  We have decided to put them onto our list for water filters when additional funds are raised and will wait to see how things progress before committing more funds for additional projects there.

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Water Supply Repairs from Monsoon Damage

Since arrival in Laos in December, the organization has been inundated with requests for repairs or full replacement of their village water supplies.  With over 30 requests to date, it is disheartening to know that only a few villages will receive help this year, being the only NGO in the Districts where most of our work is done.  Mother Nature has not been kind to them.  Travelling north of Nong Khiaw, the resulting damage is even more widespread, and at each turn, markings of another mudslide has changed the landscape.  As such, our mission had never been more critical.

During our most recent trip, we took friends, Mike and Daniel with us.  For the first stop, rolls of pvc pipe, connectors, tools, cabling, steel rods (reebar) and cement were loaded onto a boat in Nong Khiaw (about 4 hours north of Luang Prabang).  From there our group transported it to the village of Had Huan.  In the village, a preassigned group carried everything up to the community centre.  It was amazing to see 50kg bags of cement being carried up the very steep riverbank.

Arrival of materials to repair a damaged water system cause by a mudslide in August

Yes, three women dragging reebar up the riverbank. The men carried the 50kg bags of cement.

It was quite a struggle to fit the rolls of pipe in between the houses.

Three of the cement handlers taking a break – they are small but mighty.

We took a walk to their water tank and something instantly stood out. They had built a second water tank (with the guidance of an engineer a few years ago). It was built higher so that the higher part of the village would get water also. The crazy thing was that they ran a pipe from the bottom of the higher tank to the top of the lower tank using the same output location. So while the lower tank is full all the time, there is nothing in the upper one. Duh! This is just one example of poor engineering. We will fix that of course.

We visited several places but this one had been promised a visit several times.  Rain kept postponing our trip due to the high river that was in between us and the village.  The only way to get there for all of us was by tractor and road itself was surprisingly good.

The first part of the ride was quite short to the suspension bridge.

Siphan showing us the wobbly, uneven, span of the bridge. Several slats were broken or missing so special care had to be taken with every step. This bridge is also used for motorbikes.

Meanwhile, the tractor was driven through the river… Glad the group walked across the bridge or we would have been pretty wet.  One more hour on the tractor to the village to review their urgent requirements.

We wasted no time in getting right into discussion with the chief and other villager elders.  The job will be a little bigger than thought.  First, the existing tank is much too small for the village, but the main issue is that their dam is totally destroyed from yet another mudslide.  We will have to make a choice.  We can build a sister tank and rebuild a similar dam slightly further up the same river, at a lower cost, or build a dam 4km away in a much larger river and of course at a much higher cost.  We are waiting to discuss with the engineer, but if the engineer decides it needs to be the latter choice, the villagers will have to wait until the next season for us to raise enough funds for it.

Organizers reviewing the options and materials lists.

This gives you an idea of the widespread flooding that happened during the monsoons. That was a rice field, now covered by logs and trees that floated into the area from the mudslides.

There will be more pictures of the other places visited in our next post.