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.

Humanitarian of a Special Breed

We originally met Daniel Tan Cheng Leng at the airport in Vientiane, while waiting for our next flight out.  He came to see us there and buy us a quick lunch and so we would get to know each other a little bit better.  During our last multi-village excursion, he flew out to join us.  Daniel is originally from Malaysia, now living in Vientiane with his wife and volunteers with a charity in Vientiane for dog and cats with special needs and seniors.

He has a special place in his heart for children too, providing children with school supplies whenever he has spare cash, as evidenced by the pictures below.

I think he is in his element.

It wasn’t enough for him to provide school supplies as you can see.  It was Khmu New Years in this village of Vung Hin so I am sure he made the balloon vendor very happy too.

Thank you Daniel for everything you do!  We look forward to seeing you with future endeavours together.

Off The Ground and Running

No sooner had I arrived to Luang Prabang, and we were off the ground running.  We needed to complete our first village before our guests were to arrive, in order to meet the Christmas rush for pictures of the families receiving families that our generous donors had requested.  The village of Phousoung in the Nambak District of Luang Prabang Province was going to be too much for newcomers to ride on a tractor.  I am glad they didn’t join us, for their sake.  With a two hour minivan ride, short trek to the river downhill, a boat trip across the river and another short trek to the first village, we endured a 3 hour tractor ride…both ways of course.  With bad backs and sore butts, it was hard to sit down for two days afterwards…

We did the village in two parts because the village was separated by a half hour tractor ride.  During preparation of this part, it started to rain so we moved everything to a house under constructon…only the roof was done so it was perfect.

This is the second part of the village.  Take a look at the hut next door. Yes, the entire house is on a significant angle – One can’t imagine sleeping there but there is a large family living there.

This was donated on behalf of the Trafalgar Castle School by The Rotary Club of Bowmanville, as a speaker gift.  What a gift for this family!  We distributed to 120 families here.

A couple of days later, our visitors Jane and Frank Tilley arrived from Collingwood, Ontario, Canada.

Both black bags at the bottom of the carts were crammed full with toothbrushes and toothpaste, courtesy of a large bridge fundraiser held by Barbara Seagram and Patti Lee who raised about 200 water filters!  These are only SOME of the toothbrushes and paste.  Now let’s see if our charity has lived up to their expectations!

We took it easy on the Tilleys for the first couple of days but before long, we were off to the first scheduled village of Nakeau, located about 1 1/2 hours from the Mekong Boat crossing at Luang Prabang.  The road was surprisingly good, even the last 11km on a dried mud road, except for a couple of patches.  This was just a day trip where we distributed filters to 61 families.

61 water filters ready for distribution…but not until after a hygiene course.

This is where we will hold the celebrations at the end of our distribution…rather inviting don’t you think?

Very happy villagers taking their gift of life.

One of the well dressed villagers bringing out the centrepiece of the baci ceremony.

The completed masterpiece. The spend a considerable amount of time preparing this as a small gesture of their thanks to us.  It should be noted that the fellow in the blue shirt at the back, came to help us distribute the filters – his father (past chief and friend from the first village we helped) is gravely ill and we are considering sponsorship of the rest of his university course, with only 1 1/2 years to go.

What would a blog be without pictures of the kids?

Our return trip across the Mighty Mekong River.

The next morning we were off on a three day, two night village trip to the north and into our focus area.  The first stop was to Nong Khiaw for lunch, then river boat to Houay Han.  This village had already agreed to host the Khmu New Year for 7 or 8 villages.  Since then, the monsoons came with devastating damage to so many villages.  Only 20% of the rice crops for this entire village were saved and their water system severely damaged.  As such, we delivered the necessary materials to get them up and running again, although we knew it wouldn’t be in time for the New Years, scheduled just two days later.

We are standing in front of some much needed pipe. The cement, connectors etc. are actually in the room behind us for safe storage until installation.

In our next village we distributed 91 water filters and it was planned to coincide with their Khmu New Year so most of the villagers were dressed up in their traditional Khmu outfits.  They generally wear these outfits once a year.

The students perfromed traditional dance for us. There was lots of dancing by everyone and lots of food.

In addition to another Baci, we were presented with framed certificates of thanks and hand made brooms.

Today is Christmas Eve, so it was nice just to enjoy Tadse waterfalls with the elephants.

Christmas Day we are heading to Nakeau again, but this time as a bit of a surprise to them.  They gave us the last of their scarves from a loom that was destroyed last year by termites.  We have a new one for the village, and a starter kit along with lots of extra thread.

 

 

Fall Update 2018

It has certainly been a hectic summer and fall so far.  There have been lots of fundraising activities for our Laos Projects and other local projects in Southern Ontario.  Fortunately it looks like we are on target with our financial goals for the upcoming season.  We hope to do two water projects. First is to provide a permanent water supply for a new secondary school in Pak Mong, about 2 hours north of Luang Prabang, involving a dam, several km of pipe, water tank and taps to the toilets and handwashing stations.  The second is in Mok Kok involving a permanent supply of water to the village and to the secondary school there.  With approximately 5km of pipe, another dam and water tank, the village will have their first permanent water supply ever.  This village will get water filters too, so we hope to keep more children in school and that there will be more productivity from the villages.  We expect that the result of more productivity will be prosperity and longer lives, as we have seen in other villages.  In addition to the two water projects, we hope to raise funds for distribution of 650 water filters.  Finally our students are back in school too but it came with some challenges.

Due to a terrible season of monsoon rains, there has been a lot of flooding and mudslides in the area we work.  Just getting out of the Luang Prabang region, has been a struggle to get around a partially collapsed bridge. Some of the land abutting the bridge washed away too.  The result?  A 12 hour wait for the hastily constructed temporary road down the bank of the river and transport of 4 car ferries to get across it. This happened during the time we needed to get the kids outfitted and back to school for September.  Everything was delayed and some of the students couldn’t travel due to the high rivers or impossible roads.  Eventually our manager did get everyone back to school.

The students are shopping for uniforms, backpacks and school supplies.

A couple of students from Nong Ein received new bicycles too.

These students came from 4 villages. Because of the heavy rains, and poor phone service, only 7 students were able to make the journey that day. Siphan did manage to meet up with the others on other days. Pictures forthcoming.

Here is just a glimpse of some of the issues caused by the heavy flooding and mudslides.  While at least 2 dozen NGO’s and governments from Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos were all there to support a dam collapse in southeast Laos earlier, affecting 13 villages, only Bamboo Schools (a German based NGO) and us, Adopt A Village in Laos were able to assist a couple of the villages.  The Swiss Red Cross also came in to assist temporarily, thanks to a plea from Bamboo Schools.  We are told that Bamboo Schools will be moving out of Laos in December, after something like 19 years.  This is sad news in that we will be the only NGO in this area.

As you can see, they managed to get a piece of heavy equipment to clear the road.

The first village Siphan managed to make it to, just a few km north of Nong Khiaw, he found families living temporarily staying in a neighboring villages school. It is a pretty sad sight. I can’t imagine what must be going through their minds.

The villagers shown here are just a few of the families from the village that was evacuated after 4 homes were pushed into the Ou River.  The rest of the village was permanently evacuated after a large crack in the mountain behind them was discovered.  It is only a matter of time before the entire village disappears under the mud.  We understand that the village is beginning to rebuild in a farmers field.  While I haven’t received full details yet, my understanding is that the government arranged to buy land off of the farmer.  I am not sure what the financial arrangements are but the government had said that they didn’t have the money to buy the land.  That was about 3 weeks ago.

These are some of the supplies provided to the remaining villagers. Most had left to other parts of Laos to stay with friends or relatives. We provided blankets, bed matts, mosquito nets, hygiene kits and food.

We arranged for delivery of water filters too, however that was not to be.  The ferry boats couldn’t carry large trucks across the river so the filters ended up back at our house in Luang Prabang.  Instead, Bamboo Schools provided 50, however the lifespan on those are not expected to last more than a couple of years.

Siphan will be visiting another village that is in even worse shape.  The river has been too high so crossing has not been an option until just recently.  This village of 96 families lost 8 houses into the river plus their rice storage hut…meaning no food.  23 of the remaining huts were 70% damaged according to the government.  Unortunately there isn’t a lot we will be able to do since our budget for small project is now exhausted.  We will try to provide food as we can however, until their rice crops are harvested in the November timeframe…for those that didn’t lose their fields to the floods.

Siphan’s fish farm wasn’t spared either.  When he sent pictures, I couldn’t recognize where he was talking about until I studied them in detail.  For those of you that I have taken to his farm, the pond in teh distance and side river are now one lake!  Needless to say that his fish are gone.

Fortunately Siphans house in on a hill behind the camera

Another view

My heart goes out to all of these families.  I wish I could do more.

Still, we are so thankful that many people have stepped up to support us again this year, being our 10th!  With two more water projects, bringing our total to 14 villages with permanent water supplies, and hopefully another 650 families with water filters, meaning another 3250 people with clean water, we should be over 40 villages with water filters (23,000 people).  I should mention that Barbara Seagram and Patti Lee held their annual fundraiser for us and have raised 193 Water Filters!!!  We are ecstatic!  With our students, our last university student should graduate this year, and our first high school students should be graduating in 2020.

Now, on to more fundraising….we aren’t there just yet!

 

 

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.