This project is our featured project for the season. With over 600 students including primary and secondary, 39 teachers (most who live in small, shared dormitories on site), the school is sponsored by the Provincial Government for the most part. A vegetable field, tended to, by the students and a small fish pond augment the food supply for the students and live-in teachers. Up until now, the students were being fed twice per day, Monday through Friday, with only rice being offered on the weekends. Their water cost is not supported by the government at a cost of $10,000 to $12,000 USD per year. Our goal was to eliminate this cost, in favour of supporting the students food supply. In order to do this, Adopt A Village in Laos agreed to drill two water wells, provide water tanks and tie into the existing infrastructure, in addition to repairs needs for taps that didn’t work. It is exciting to see the results. Lets get acquainted with the school;
It is always so fulfilling and encouraging to be able to provide water filters for the northern, rural villages in Laos. We see the suffering from a lack of clean water. Disease from water borne bacteria increases infant mortality, shortens lifespans, and reduces productivity and learning. So far this season, our Lao team has distributed family water filters to 5 more villages and a primary school, including Ban Sang Primary School with 7 filters, Ban Longkham with 137 families, Naluang with 51 systems, Ban Pakhan with 131 units, Ban Topnai with 82 systems and Ban Yaro with 91 units. So far, these two distributions have provided for about 2,450 villagers. Two thirds of these systems were financed through our dear friends Barbara Seagram and Patti Lee, who teach bridge and have done an annual fundraiser for many years. In addition, many personal friends, friends of Rotary and Rotarians have contributed to the success of this program over the years. Our heartfelt thanks go to each and every one of you, who continue to make this world a better place. Here are some highlights;
It is hoped that the team will be able to do one more smaller filter distribution in the coming weeks, to add to these villages. With a new Covid Lockdown, it may have to wait, although Laos has done an excellent job at border control, limiting the spread of infection in their country to 64, at the time of this post.
The first water project of the season was completed just a couple of weeks ago. This village of Poung Jong has over 300 residents consisting of Hmong and Khmu ethnic backgrounds. Their main income is from tobacco, with most of it going to China. During the off season, the women focus on their weaving for sales of their Lao Skirts in Luang Prabang. The village has no electricity and up until now, they had no permanent water supply.
During the lockdown around the world, entry to Laos has been blocked so travel there by team members and project visitors was not possible. It meant that more paid labour was required at the sites, more coordination and management from Canada (with a 12 hour time zone difference), delays in getting pipe and connectors into the country and fundraising has been more of a challenge than ever before. As expected, many of our usual donors have chosen to support our local food banks, PPE (personal protective equipment) and other emergency supplies to those struggling here at home. However, the project targets were eventually reached! Here are some highlights of the Poung Jong project.
We offer our sincerest of thanks to all the Rotary members that raised the funds and made positive change for this village. THANK YOU!
As expected, donations have been down this year, yet we have still been able to distribute water filters for two villages with the first truckload. It is always exciting for us, knowing as the villagers do, that we are about to change their lives for the better, by improving health of the villagers and village in general, reduced medical costs from diarrhea caused by water borne bacteria, increasing yields in the rice fields with more productivity by healthier people, and hope. The villagers soon realize, by all the labels on the water filters, that there are a lot of people they will never meet, but care about them.
In total 223 water filters were distributed and there are 17 in storage for the next distribution. Currently we are just 35 filters shy of a second truck load that will hold 256 systems.
Meanwhile, 5.6km of pipe has been ordered for the main water project this year, in the village of Poung Jong. There, a dam will be built, water tank, 10 taps in the village and the burying of 5.6km of pipe. With the pipe expected to arrive in 2 days, the project will be underway.
Nothing has been simple this year with Covid. No travel to the country means our regular processes for filter distribution, signing of the Memorandum of Understanding for each village, construction and so much more, is more difficult than imagined, despite heavy planning. So far so good though with better days to come and happier people too!
While few people saw it coming, our medical scientists knew the threat would become a reality at some point. Our fragile world has certainly changed. Daily living has changed and we simply have to adapt to whatever is thrown our way.
The fundraising season has concluded for the most part, as we continue to make a positive difference in the lives of the rural villagers in Laos. Our budget is significantly impacted, with most fundraising activities geared towards smaller, on-line events, and proceeds going towards local covid support initiatives. Significant government support to those in serious need is also helping of course. We certainly understand this, yet we continue to try to help out in a country whose government cannot support their population with covid relief.
Without support, scores of university and college students were unable to continue their education this year, without part-time jobs to support them during the school year. Luang Prabang, a popular Unesco tourist area, also the location of colleges and a major university, basically shut down, forcing many residents and students back to their farm villages. With that in mind, our team took the initiative to support additional college students this year.
Our organization has also been subsidizing some extra students on an adhoc basis to assist with some of their costs that allow them to continue their education.
After months of lockdown and various stress related issues regarding our projects and students in Laos, the team was able to close out the season just in time for year-end, which is June 30th. As per the last post, there were many delays over the Sandluangnoi water project, but even with heavy rains during the afternoons and evenings, the project was finally completed June 26 and water is now running directly to the village. The 7.2km of pipe is buried, plus the dam, water tank and taps are completed. It would have been exciting to have our entire team there to celebrate and to see the gleam and excitement in the eyes of these villagers. Here are some highlights.
To give viewers a better idea of the geography, where these projects are done, please cut and paste this google maps link into your browser. https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1RbgoWn6XeX09gV1UgYapHKdjs1PCILZ1&ll=20.636490640690315%2C102.70705413284847&z=9
In this link you will be able to zoom out, zoom into to each village including Sandluangnoi, right down to the structures. You will note that this is not an easy village to get to, especially in the pouring rain…in fact you cannot travel by muddy road in the rain. Also, many of the villages have pictures – By clicking on the picture, one can use the arrow on the right of the screen to see additional pictures in the village. Thanks to Beau Brennen in New Westminster, British Columbia for the endless volunteer hours he has put into this project.
Finally, for this year’s amateur video (as a small charity we cannot pay for professional videographers), please cut and paste this link into your browser. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow2TT54cmJk
Our team took a lot of pictures and very amateur video clips, and sent to a great friend Sue Miller, who managed to take the best parts of all of the clips, add pictures and sound, and put this together. Sue is amazing and just won a Paul Harris award through the Rotary Club of Whitby Sunrise, last night for all of her social media work for the club, and the District. Thank you so much!
Now that a new year has started, our team is preparing for a new season. With the world health situation in such turmoil, and all traditional outdoor fundraising events cancelled, it is certainly going to be a challenge. As such, our budget will be significantly reduced, with the understanding that many local donors are spending their funds on Covid Relief. Still, our team will do what they can to improve the lives of the less fortunate in Laos. Our goal is to complete just one large water project, a small water project (down from several water projects last year), keep our students in school (11 this year including a university student) and raise funds for 350 family water filters (down from 827 raised last year). For anyone interested in supporting this initiative, please don’t hesitate to contact us at email@example.com
With the world in pandemonium as they try to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, life has changed for the Lao People too, although reported cases are only at 19, as of May 21. The government has recognized that a pandemic of this proportion was no match for their healthcare system, they wasted no time in locking the country borders, right down to the rural villages. With record low river levels causing crop failures in the north, followed by widespread hoof-and-mouth disease and now Covid, the struggles have been unimaginable. With no income, very limited food and no access to the villages, to say it has been challenging, would be an understatement. The university and college students that didn’t make it back to their villages in time, have been forced to wait it out in their dormitories, with no food, no part-time job and nowhere to go.
Our team was caught in the middle, although we did extend additional training to some of the rural villages in preparation of Covid and provided recommendations to prevent hoof and mouth disease. The main water project of the season was put on hold for two months, as visitors scrambled to find new flights to return home, after all initial flights were cancelled. There is no point to go into details, since this was a worldwide challenge.
The good news is that the project restarted about a week ago as the villages have reopened, and we were able to receive delivery of the remaining 3.6km of pipe for a total of 7.2km. Thanks to our illustrious and dedicated project manager Siphan, the project is back on track, with the dam now completed (curing), all 7.2km of pipe laid, and water is now running to the village. The villagers are ecstatic and you will see all the kids having fun with water in the village for the first time. The water tank still has to be built, along with the tap towers in the village and smaller pipe to be run from the water tank to the taps. Completion is estimated in 3-4 weeks.
During the weeks since our return to our respective countries, dozens of closing reports and updates have been submitted to the charity’s main donors, as we begin to review next seasons budget. With the cancellation of all large fundraisers for the foreseeable future, and most funds being held back for local covid relief initiatives, it will be a challenging year. Thinking outside the box will be the new norm as we try to adapt and continue to assist a country with so many setbacks.
Here are links to a couple of youtube videos. Please note that this is obviously amateur video – As a small charity, funds are not spent to have expensive video equipment and professional narrators etc. You will need to paste the links into your browser.
This first one is a summary of some of the many projects completed during the season. It will be modified to include the last and largest project, once completed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTDycT_CEQ8&t=17s
This second video is of one of our university students, Khamman, who is just completing his second year in ecotourism. He is number 1 in his course. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZAcwJGvqc8
There has been a flurry activity over recent weeks, albeit with smaller volunteer teams. Due to the coronavirus scare, most of our guests decided it was best to stay home this year, understandably.
With fewer people, we added a number of village visits to our itineraries. Due to the success of our water filter donation program we were able to fulfill requests to individual families as well, located in more distant and remote areas. These families are located in Ban Na, Houn District of Oudomxay Province, Pak Seng in Pak Seng District (LPB Province), Viengkham, Phouluang and Houay Thong, Ngoi District (LPB Province). We hope to get back to these villages at some point to do the entire villages.
Meanwhile, our team did a four day field trip starting with a very easy day of driving to Nong Khiaw and relaxing for the afternoon at Viewpoint Resort with a magnificent view of the village. Early the next morning however, we loaded into a boat and headed downstream to the Village of Lath An and distributed Water Filters to 55 families.
With a short Baci celebration offered as their sincere thanks, we headed to the next village of Done Khoun. Done Khoun has 39 Families with a mix of Khmu and Lao families. What is unique about this village is that they have an extensive waterfalls system located about an hour hike from the village. A small charge by the village (with tour guide) and the help of funds from Tiger Trails, they were able to build this shelter for guests and community events.
After another baci celebration, we were able to return to our guest house just in time for sunset.
It had been quite some time since our last visit through Lao Sao, in the mountainous region east and south of Nong Khiaw, and as expected, once off the main road, the dusty, bumpy ride up to the village took a lot longer than it had previously, due to deteriorated road conditions. It started off like any other normal day, but as we got closer, the clouds rolled in and about 15 minutes from our destination, the rains came. With a little slipping and sliding during the final 5 minutes on what was by then getting close to a washout, the truck persevered!
About 60 villagers were waiting inside and under the overhang of the small community centre that had seen better days. Yes, we got wet, but it stopped raining about 15 minutes later, yet left us with a bigger problem, which was where to prepare the filters. It is normally done outside but there was mud everywhere and taking pictures with muddy filters for our donors, was not an option. The filters were located in the chiefs house so the training was done in the community centre and the filters were prepared and distributed one at a time from the chiefs house. It was sheer pandemonium with so many Hmong families with their children trying to help and so little space to take pictures.
Again we made it back just in time for sunset, in preparation for a very long day coming up, with 5 villages on the agenda.
With an early morning start the next day, we arrived at a school who had been requesting water filters for over two years. Ban Xang has around 300 primary school students with a pretty good mix of Khmu, Lao and Hmong.
Next up was Thong Loum. This was one of our main water projects for the year whereby two dams were built because of the drought conditions causing very low river flow, plus a water tank, lots of pipe and taps. Despite being way over-budget, there was cause for a lot of celebration in the village. We had no idea they would go to this much effort for us and they even slaughtered a pig.
A video will be prepared, showing the progress from beginning to end and it will be shared.
Now the fun part!
The celebration continued with the senior students performing dance for us, plus lots of food and drink, as a small gesture of the heartfelt gratitude and of course more dancing by the rest of us. It was sad that our Ladner/Burnaby Rotary visitors couldn’t join in the celebrations with us. It sure wasn’t the same without them.
Our small group left shortly after the village dancing started, because we still had to somehow visit 3 more villages. Fortunately , the first one was just 20 minutes away.
On to Meung Xuen. We were already late as we were told that the school would shut down at 3:30pm instead of 4pm, so they had to wait for us as we drove another 20 minutes south, loaded up the boat with feminine pads, headed across the river and trekked them to the school.
Our last stop included a short 1km trek to Ban Na Lea (Ngoi District). We had delivered fencing to surround a school that we had built (school sponsored by the Rotary Club of Toronto Twilight). Fortunately it had cooled down a little so the trek was pretty nice and so peaceful.
With the arrivals of Kirsten, a dear friend (and fundraiser too) and David Slocum from the Orillia Rotary Club, we set off to distribute the most recent delivery of water filters. Houay Khan is located across the Mekong River by car ferry and about a 40 minute drive on good road for a change. In fact it was quite pleasant. The village was a Khmu/Lao mix and it went fairly quickly. What was notable about this village was that it was a Christian village. In fact our team ate at someones house where they also held services.
For the next two days, we distributed another 97 filters to the remote village of Sandluangnoi. The first day was rather tough. They didn’t have a strong and well respected chief so very few Hmong families showed up. After a couple of hours of the Khmu leader (Hmong and Khmu village) going door to door, most finally came for the training. Our team ended up taking back 5 filters and the families were given one last chance to receive a water filter, it the trekked the following day 3km up to the main village. (most did the trek and we brought the filters back for them of course). There were a couple of families that refused to go and expected their filters though but were advised to speak with their chief about it.
Our small team headed up to the main village further up the mountain and it was a pleasant surprise. The chief there was engaging, had the respect of all of the inhabitants, participated in the distribution process and was full of smiles. The upper village was entirely Hmong. Our team managed to distributed the 57 water filters in about 2 1/2 hours as opposed to 5 hours to distribute 40 the previous day.
Our guests have left now, but Kirsten will be returning at the end of the month to assist with another round of distributions and participate in the water project ceremonial hand-off to the village. All of the team from the Vancouver area have either had their flights cancelled by the airlines or have decided to cancel their trips to Laos this year, due to the coronavirus scare.
There are two very special people who do so much good in the world and we are extremely honoured to be friends with them. In addition to supporting 5 schools (with which they funded the construction too) in Cambodia, they also raise significant funds for Laos through Adopt A Village in Laos. Each year, these two amazing people, Barbara Seagram and Patti Lee, take turns to come and visit us. This year alone, they raised funds for over 280 water filters through their efforts. To date, thousands of rural villagers have received clean water because of their dedication.
Every one of those filters, along with many more, were funded by Patti and Barbara’s efforts. Special thanks go to all of the many donors and bridge players in Toronto and some even in the US.
This year we were very fortunate to have Patti visit with us.