Ban Phone Cultural Centre

This year has been a strange one.  Rain, cold (for Laos standards) and for some reason, we haven’t slowed down since I arrived at the beginning of December.  Fortunately everything is on track although our last project was delayed a little with the start date.

As we prepare for many more guests to arrive in two groups, I actually find my self pretty much caught up with the reporting, filter label sorting and preparation, and of course, computer work!

During this last month we were visited by a small contingent of a very generous Malay group that has been supporting our projects for three years now.  I had never met them because they always came at the beginning of the rainy season after I returned to Canada, but this season I had the privilege and honour of actually meeting them.  It is amazing how our cultures are so similar.

We distributed 38 of the 62 water filters their group had raised funds for, and officially opened the long awaited Cultural Centre.  They were the second largest donor for the project and villagers are, needless to say, ecstatic.  It has been a 3-year cycle for them in trying to find support.  The village elders and District planning department have also laid the path for the elders to be able to teach the younger generations from neighboring villages (and their own) how to weave approximately 40 different basket-type products, in addition to sharing their cutural stories of the past and keep their cultural Khmu identity – much has been lost over the years.  We also hope to develop this centre to present cultural activities such as song and dance,art, and perhaps teach the villagers to expand into silk weaving.  The planning and tourism departments are on board with us of course and even the tourism department in Luang Prabang is eager to assist by exchanging talent.  Finally the elders will also be able to assist in supporting their large families by selling their product to the general public and tourists.

The Cultural Centre in Ban Phone, complete with runing water and toilets.

I should mention that the majority of the funding was kindly provided by a member of the the Toronto Bridge Group, in loving memory of her husband and who wishes to remain anonymous.  We also received sizeable donations from the Ravaesky family in Caifornia, Christine Thammavongsa of Toronto, Kevin Hope in Loving Memory of his wife, Fay and quite a few others.

Two toilets in behind the Cultural Centre.  Don’t look at the hose (lol).  The water wasn’t actually hooked up to the toilets until the day after…

You really don’t want to know what they were cooking and preparing for us…most of which we didn’t eat. To the right is ‘Dokham’ being dried and is used for the making of brooms.

Much of our team is here with the Chief and other planning and tourism officials. Each of us was given a handicraft as thanks for our support. Unfortunately I was given a huge stucky rice basket which cannot possibly fit into my luggage.

…and the celebration begins with the Baci ceremony, honouring the donors. Each elder placed a string on both wrists, praying to us for good health, wealth and happiness, among other chants. Pictured here is Eva, graciously receiving strings.  This Malay group is a very humble group and true humantarians.

Donor Sign at the entrance to the village. Without them, this never would have been possible.  Special Thanks and huge shoutout go to Barbara Seagram, Patti Lee and Alex Kornel for raising funds for the Lao people through their Bridge teachings in Canada and abroad.

Our Vancouver Rotary contingent arrives in just one week!  Preparations are pretty much complete although we will reconfirm all of the accommodations and transportation for them, just to make sure nothing goes amiss.  They will be assisting us with the construction of at least one water tap and post, distribute 122 water filters, ALL of which were raised by them through various Rotary Clubs and Friends of Rotary there, and officially celebrate the opening of the water line and water tank for the needy village of Ban Xiengda.  It will be a busy few days!

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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!

Fundraising Season 2017/8 is Wrapping Up

While it has been quite some time since my last post, it isn’t because we haven’t been busy.  Our fundraising season begins on the day I return from Laos (last April) and ends when I step onto the plane to go back.  This time it will be for four months, with triple the number of projects, more water filters than ever before, our usual sponsorship of primary, secondary and university students, and some smaller projects.  At this point we have four groups coming this year, a Rotary Group from my home club, Whitby Sunrise, another Rotary Group from Ladner, Delta and Coquitlam, BC, plus a group from Malaysia and another from Singapore.

We are getting pretty close to our targets and there is still room on the truck for more water filters, so if anyone is interested in donating as a Christmas gift, just send me an email and I will make sure that you have a picture of the receiving family with your filter and label (so you can zoom in on the label to see the message or name that you chose).  Right now we have 614 water filters donated ($115 CDN each), leaving 37 to raise funds for so that we can distribute to 7 villages this year.  Please confirm that it is for Christmas though, if you need it for that.  Otherwise they may not get distributed until January or February.

So, for this year we hope to do a project in the rural mountainous village of Phoukoud.  This is fairly close to last year’s project, but further down the mountain.  We don’t have to build a dam, as we will run a pipe from the large water tank we built last year in Thong Thuen and run it through two pressure-release substations (so the pipes don’t explode) to Phoukhoud.  Here is a picture of the tank in Thong Thuen.

Thong Thuen Water Tank. The ditches are for the pipes runing into the village and one reserved for Phoukoud, further down the mountain

Phoukoud Village. There are two parts to this village but soon, both will have water running from the tank in the picture above (about 6.5km).  This project is sponsored by many Rotary Clubs.

Our second water project will be in the village of Xeingda.  Last year we distributed 60 desks, courtesy of Global Change For Children and distributed school supplies to the students.  The poorer half of this village (mostly Khmu) has no water and need to trek about 1 1/2km to get it.  This will be sponsored mostly by our West Coast Rotary Clubs with a little extra support from Rotary Clubs in Southern Ontario and a few private donors.

Villager in Ban Xiengda. The daughter will be taken to a hospital for an operation when she gets old enough (I believe it is around 4 or 5 years old). Another NGO will sponsor this.

At this point it looks like 20 Rotary Clubs in Canada and The Interact Club of Clarington, will be sponsoring one or both of these major projects.  We look forward to getting the kids to school, rather than trekking for water each morning and evening.  Each family will also get a water filter (good for about 12 years for a family of up to 8).  The water filters are sponsored by many kind hearted individuals…so no more diarrhea!

Thank You Rotary!

As another major project (now under construction) is a Cultural Centre in the Village of Phone.  The road has deteriorated over the monsoon season but they are still able to get materials up in the highlands….it is slow going though. The main purpose for the centre is for the elders to teach the younger people from neighbouring villages to learn basket- weaving.  There are about 40 different products that are made and the elders worry that their culture will disappear if they don’t carry the tradition.  This centre is being sponsored by a generous private donor, a Malay group of volunteers and a number of individuals from a Toronto Bridge Club.

The site of the new cultural centre. This ‘shell’ has been torn down. The centre will be open to the public for sale of weaved products and will be complete with toilets and running water.

As you can see, they need a centre to teach others. This hut is very small and there is not enough room or light.  Another issue is that if the students learn at someone’s home, they are expected to be fed.

A Master at work, making a rice container.  Rather stylish don’t you think?

We are also working on the possibility of doing two more water projects this season with the support of a Singapore group, so there may be another announcement coming.

Meanwhile, it is back to the final days of fundraising.

 

Thong Thuen Celebrates the Completion of the Water Project

A few days following the visit of our 16 guests, we had the pleasure of receiving several more guests, Kevin (Saskatchewan, Canada), Cinzia (Switzerland), and a very, very special lady and good friend, Barbara Seagram (Toronto, Canada).  We had been planning for her arrival (and Kevins’) to allow them to experience a special treat with the Official Ceremony in Thong Thuen.

But first, we took the group up to the school grounds in Thong Thuen so Barbara, Kevin and Cinzia could teach at the bamboo school in the village (96 students including kindergarten).  Barbara had bought schools supplies and the materials for her craft project with the students.  What a treat it was for the kids.

Barbara, with the three school teachers.  Only one is getting paid by the government – the other two are still hoping to get on the government payroll soon.  Each of the teachers received a solar light (see the teacher on the right with her assembled unit) from Barbara to help them prepare their lesson plans at night.  In addition, Kevin, Barbara and myself gave the two ladies some extra spending money to help tie them over for a bit.  Barbara also donated an additional solar light to the head of the women in the village during the ceremony, a small thank you for all the work done by the women for the successful completion of the project.

The village chief standing in the classroom with the students as they wait for their art project to begin.

I wish I had pictures of Kevin and Cinzia but I was preparing for the distribution of the school supplies outside the classroom while they sang songs with the students including Old McDonald, Head and Shoulders and a couple of others.  The kids loved it!

Barbara also presented the school teachers with sports items including soccer balls and net, rattan balls and volleyball and net. The kids sure look happy. Remember that foreigners never go to this village and they have never been given anything before.

Each student received a pencil, pen, notebook, eraser, pencil sharpener, pencil crayons, ruler and canned fish (the fish will serve as a meal to be shared by the whole family), plus balloons and candy.

Next was the formal part of the official handover of the project to the village.  I am pretty sure that every single villager was there but lets look at the project first.

The dam: I was a bit disappointed that they hadn’t removed all the forms yet and much of it was covered with leaves due to the dry season causing the leaves to fall, but you get the idea.

The spillway – there was a lot of cement in this although you can’t really tell because the flow is under the cement spillway which is covered by leaves.

The completed water tank with a fence around it to keep the kids off.

One of 12 taps across the three hilltops of the village. Does she look happy to you?  She is reusing one of soft drink bottles to fill with water, hopefully for her water filter.

The presentation: The number of individuals, corporations, Rotarians and Rotary Clubs from all over Canada, made this happen. There are so many to thank and I will be doing this through separate emails to each and follow up presentations to whoever I can reach. THANK YOU!

Being the largest water project we have ever done, the struggles we and the villagers endured and the resulting success was rather spectacular.  The muddy roads at the beginning caused trucks to slide backwards, then wait it out, another truck slid back into a tree causing a fair bit of damage, and even two jealous villagers (from a neighboring village) cut the pipe almost 9km from the village are just a memory now.  In reference to the villagers that cut the pipe, they were caught (surprisingly), the village was visited by the engineer and District officials, and all was eventually sorted out…I won’t go into the details in this post.

A Special Thank You to Cindy Gering, her family and her Team for her very special donation.

The feast! They slaughtered a goat and a pig in appreciation. We supplied Beer Lao which is cheaper than water there and also the ice….I am not sure what they enjoyed more, the Beverages or the Ice. They have never had ice in the village before! In fact it was the largest celebration the village has ever had.

There wasn’t enough room under the tarp but they didn’t care. They found a tree to squat under.

This is the spiritual part of the ceremony….baci…not easy on the knees but certainly appreciated.

Kevin in the forefront with Siphan and the second chief behind him

After a well needed rest, we headed to one of our favorite villages, one in which I hadn’t visited this year and was concerned about two of the students that we are sponsoring through our generous sponsors, Art from North Carolina and Ian from New Zealand and Australia.

Sure enough, Doe and Tick were waiting for us on the other side of the river.  They were excused by their respective teachers for the day, to ensure we were well looked after.  Tick goes to secondary school in Meung Xuen (a village we must travel through to get to Ban Na Lea, our destination), and Doe who is in Primary 3.  The school was built by us, but sponsored by The Rotary Club of Toronto Twilight.  Both villages were recipients of water projects done by us, through the generosity of many Rotary Clubs over a two year period.

Part of our trip to Ban Na Lea – we used a tractor because of the heavy school supplies, again donated by Barbara and her team in Canada. We did trek back however because it was a little easier on our backs and butts…and more adventurous. Siphan and Cinzia posed for the picture but Siphan didn’t actually drive it and there is no way we really looked that happy while riding the tractor.

Barbara, in all her glory and big smile on her face as the students finish the art project.

Barbara, Kevin and Cinzia enjoying the teaching of Head and Toes, as much as the kids enjoyed learning it. Right after class, Barbara again gave every student a bag full of school supplies and canned fish.

Trekking back, Barbara was terrific on the parallel bars don’t you think?

I sure hated to leave the kids behind. It hasn’t been easy for these two orphaned brothers, always treading lightly around their foster parents.

Tick has had a really rough go of it. Last year he was sent to an orphanage due to foster family issues (infighting but not with Tick).  He was hungry all the time – they were fed two meals a day, one was just a handful of sticky rice and sometimes the other meal consisted just of fat soup.  Not very nutritious for growing students.  Fortunately he was successful in being accepted back to the foster family.  I wish I could have brought them home.  Next season, I might bring them down to Luang Prabang for a weekend of fun for them.  I hope that one or both sponsors will be able to join us for that time too, as they do come to Laos often.

Our final dinner with Barbara…sure am sad to see her go. She has been such an inspiration to the kids (and to me too! Where on earth do you get all the energy!) From left to right: Siphan, Bounmy (Siphans brother), Barbara, Oudone (university student in his last year), Tanh (Oudone’s brother going to Finance College) and yours truly.

To end our season, we had our last two groups of visitors arrive at the same time.  Rather than try to do both, I sent Siphan up north to Hatkham Village, past Nong Khiaw and by riverboat to review the status of a school we built a few years ago, now destined to be 75 feet underwater.  The school was primarily funded by Jai Lao Foundation, whose base is located just outside San Francisco.  They had a pretty busy schedule but I was able to have dinner with them, just before they left.

Meanwhile, three wonderful ladies from Calgary visited, Aline, Bonnie and Monica.  I invited Kevin along too since we were going to be going to a rural school outside of Luang Prabang to teach english and he was a master at it by now.

As we crossed the river, there were a few screams every time the boat tilted 1 degree but it was a shallow river and the boat was navigated and propelled with a long stick pushing along the bottom of the river.  I think the ladies enjoyed the excitement.  They had brought hundreds of toothbrushes, sponsored by Brentwood Village Dental in Calgary and toothpaste plus the two biggest bags of candy I have ever seen!

Beautiful kids and some big ones in the back.  In the back from left: Oudone, Bounmy, Monica, Bonnie and Aline.  I should note that Aline has been providing funds towards Oudone’s university course.

After class. students came up one at a time to receive their gifts for being so patient with the teachers…

Offering of gifts and sports items to the teachers

It was an extremely hot day so fresh coconut juice was the ticket, followed by a great lunch with a freshly killed chicken, finger potatoes and other goodies.

As this season winds down, I leave my heart here.  It is with sadness that I leave but I need to get next seasons fundraising activities underway….quite frankly though, I am looking forward to a Wendy’s hamburger with Frostie (maybe on the way home from the airport..haha) and I hope a turkey dinner with mashed potatoes, gravy and so on…  I also need to get back before Lao New Years or the students will likely take my last dollar…

 

 

 

 

 

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…

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.