As part of the last distribution of water filters for the year, a lot of planning went into the visitation and participations by a large Malay contingent. 29 visitors in fact! Siphan was a little nervous about managing this by himself although we hired a couple of local people to assist. By all reports, they all came away with positive experiences. The cooked for a village, they brought thousands of feminine pads for the secondary school girls, held activities with the students and of course distributed a lot of water filters. Siphan delivered water filters to many villages prior to their arrival so they could spend more time with the villagers. I am sure they would have a lot more to say if they wrote this article but most or all have said they would return in a heartbeat.
In July, we were excited to distribute another 250 water filters! This brought the total number of family water filters distributed in one year to 764! That’s about 3,820 people with clean water. To get to this stage, The Rotary Club of Scarborough, Ontario matched all water filter donations received from their club members and friends of the club, over a two week period. That was 58 water filters! Also, our dear friends Barbara Seagram, Alex Kornel and Patti Lee hold an annual bridge fundraiser for us and raised well over 100 filter system donations! They are such an inspiration. We also had Daniel, representing a Singapore group, SG L.I.F.E. who donated 30 filters and another group from Malaysia who also donated a lot of filters. But first, Daniel was kind enough to write his own blog entry! so cool!
Thrown from the tractor
Got your attention. Right!!!
I was very fortunate to come across Web: adoptavillageinlaos.wordpress.com organization and was impressed with Steve and his local support group in Laos. Ours is a small group of individuals (SG L.I.F.E.) who believed in giving and bringing some happiness to the unfortunate people of Laos and to assist the children of Laos by providing them with an education so that they will have a better future. Although our contribution maybe small but it’s an initial step
Started the funding drive for our initial project for 30 water filters system for a remote village North of Luang Prabang. (an Unesco World Heritage site and was voted the 10 best places to visit). Steve’s organization had previously donated 30 water filters system to a village called Ban Lang Pha, a very remote village in the interior of Laos forest near the Nam Ou 2 Hydro Dam project. We were glad to sponsor the remaining 28 units to the 58 families living there and 2 other units were delivered to another village which was missed out previously.
Made my trip by flying from Vientiane Capital to Luang Prabang, an easy 50 minutes flight by Fokker. Was met on arrival by a smiling Siphan, (Steve’s local coordinator) and immediately was taken in by his friendly nature and pleasantly surprised by his good command of English.
A quick check-in to the guest house (US$13/night with a Queen sized bed with air-cond and hot water) and headed off to the markets to purchase school stationeries for 60 plus primary school going children. Of course when you are dealing with kids, you need to add sweets and other goodies and we were glad to provide all these happy requirements. Bought some basic necessities (toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and etc – things we all take for granted) for the villagers.
After a very simple dinner in one of the lanes at the famous Night Market of Luang Prabang, decided to call it a night as we have an early morning journey to Ban Lang Pha. Maybe I was too excited as I had a rather restless night and was kinda tired when woke up at 6.00am but on seeing the ever cheerful face of Siphan, I was eager to get moving. Siphan had earlier hired a minivan for the 2 hours road trip to a place called Ban Dong Nguen. Our boat ride was waiting for us to take us across Nam Ou river and we fully loaded the small little sampan (boat) to make the river crossing and our tractor transport was already waiting at the landing to take us to Ban Lang Pha which is a mere 18 km ride but took us over 90 minutes of backbreaking, tough and rough ride due to the treacherous muddy condition due to the rain that felled for several days before our visit. It will be a road trip that will forever remained in my memories.
The weather was kind to us as it would cloudy and whatever pain and suffering I had was easily forgotten on reaching the village and seeing the entire village welcoming us. It must be the red awful hat that Siphan was wearing. Haha. The villagers quickly helped us unload all the stuff and the village head organized the distribution of the water filters system to the families at their community hall. I had fun and was truly blessed to present the water filters to the individual family and was teasing and joking with them. I think they were surprised to see a Chinese man able to speak their language.
The villagers had organized a thanksgiving ceremony (Baci in Laos) for us to thank us for the gifts and luckily for me, I had no issues in eating Laos food they had prepared in our honor as I have lived here for over 3 years now. There was even a jar of their local moonshine ready for my consumption. Even had our fortune read by the village shaman. These villagers are really simple people even though they have so little but there always a smile on their face and readily will share their meals with you.
Took a tour around the village by the village teacher and was shown the pathetic rundown shack of a place called school. I was totally shocked at the poor condition and almost shredded a tear.
After giving out the goodies to the children, it was time to say our farewell and we informed the villagers that we will look into their request for the construction of a 2/3 classrooms and a pipe water system. Seeing the smiles and the happy faces of the kids made me forget about the long hard ride down from the mountain.
We survived the journey down from the mountain although we had to get off several times due to the bad condition of the jungle path and were almost thrown off as I lost concentration for awhile due to the intense hot sun and the light drizzle that accompanied us all the way.
Arrived safely in Luang Prabang in the evening and I actually looked forward to my next trip into the remote again this coming December. Hopefully we are able to meet some of their request but providing the kids with an education will be our top priority.
Love Laos Project
Thank You Daniel for your insight and for your amazing support. More information about Daniels trip can be found on his facebook page at (Facebook: Love Laos Project)
It has been a hectic time over the summer as we are challenged with new fundraising season. First however, let us bring you up to date on the last of the projects from last season.
The last stage of the seasons projects was to build one last bank of toilets for the village in Pha Yong, bringing the total number of toilet banks to 11. In total there are 25 toilets in the village. We understand that the village is to be deisgnated a heritage village for purposes of inviting tourists to experience their way of life. With Hmong and Khmu tribes, plus the surrounding scenery, and some pretty good infrastructure there now, it is a obvious choice. As such we can all pat ourselves on our backs for helping the villagers achieve this goal.
We had hoped to be able to do one more distribution of water filters. With our drop in the Canadian Dollar and the need to fill a truck (holds 250 systems), it was doubtful we would reach this target. BUT WE DID IT! See more in our next post.
We had two additional visitors, Janice who is a Canadian living in Singapore and Renaldo, a retired registered nurse from United States. I wanted to show them our projects so took them along for my final visit of the season to Katang Xieng for a progress update on the school addition. They had just started working on the roof a few days before and I have to admit I was pleasantly shocked. Not only was the roof finished, they had parged and painted the front wall of the school as of April 2nd and in time for us to enjoy a baci celebration and unofficial school opening. They still have to finish parging and painting, put up the ceiling and then put a cement floor in but I was impressed. There are about 3 weeks left of work to do on that. I know that Lao New Year is right around the corner so they are trying to get as much done as possible.
Here are some highlights;
This post may seem a bit rushed and it has been. I am off to finish packing and then to the airport as I begin my journey home. Watch for more updates.
We managed to finish off the remaining smaller projects for the season, and with the school addition in Katang Xieng well underway, it was time to look at a number of projects requested of us, for next year.
All the projects we are considering are in the Nambak district which is about 2 hours north of Luang Prabang, although considerably further to the villages themselves because they are well off the travelled roads. We took a minivan as far as we could go into the highlands and then were told that we would be transported by tractor. We weren’t impressed – not everyone can do the tractor, depending on the terrain so Joan and John decided to stay behind, but, with some good luck, a heavy duty truck came instead – while not exactly comfortable for me in a small space behind the front seats, or Siphan and the chief who had to stand in the back but it was a welcome surprise that we could all go. It was well worth it. As we eventually got to the destination (about 4 hours in total), the village was waiting for us with baited breath, hoping for the miracle of water.
We discussed the options and possibilities for water next season. They had a dam but that was it. No pipe, water tank, taps etc. The most difficult issue was that there are three parts to the village, each on its own hill top. With the engineer present, he explained that a tank would be built on the highest part of the village and have pipes run to the other two hilltops. It seems fairly easy but over 9km of pipe to this section of the village is a lot..no wonder the cost estimated, is so high. This is going to be quite a challenge to raise over $70,000…and this doesn’t include water filters.
Next, they took us to the current water source…I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go…especially when they started to chuckle to themselves. I took the challenge.
After heading to a guesthouse for the night, and struggling to find food for our guests to eat, we headed to two more villages the following day. The first was to a village and school. The school officials were waiting for our arrival. We noted that the village seemed a little wealthier than the rest with many of the homes built with cement, a far cry from where we had just been the day before. The school however was a bit of a surprise. An organization built the school in 2009 but it was never finished – they never came back to officially open the school and the contractor took off. I suspect he took off with the rest of the funds and promised to finish it but never did.
As a side note, we will be attempting to contact the French organization that built it. 2009 is a long time ago. It makes you wonder if they are even aware. Meanwhile we have applied to a Canadian organization for funding of the desks.
We visited a good chunk of the village too. While some of the homes were bamboo, there sure were a lot of families that we would consider wealthy. Without a formal proposal, complete with a survey, diagrams and a materials list, we won’t proceed until we get them. Even then, we will have to find a way to simply subsidize it, as opposed to paying for everything.
Our last village was interesting. It was located on a different range of mountain tops. There were actually two villages. The first village cut the water supply to the second village because there was a shortage of water. The second village does have a tank though along with pipes in the village and taps (although dry of course). We will again wait for the survey to see if the current dam will be sufficient to run a second pipe to the village but it will have to wait for another year because our time is running out.
It was a tough week for us. With Joan and John leaving us, Gary from Richmond Hill gone now and Ian from New Zealand also returning to his home, it sure is quiet here. I regret that we couldn’t do more with all of them but it is very late in our season and of course cashflow becomes the name of the game so we have to be careful.
We have one last trip to make with the last guests – one is here already and the other arrives in three days, then it is homeward bound for another fundraising season. Having said that, I have been working with my airline consolidator since January 7th and they still can’t confirm a return flight for me. They made a mistake when Korean made a schedule change. The consolidator changed my flight – Instead of going from Luang Prabang to Hanoi to Seoul, Korea then to Toronto, they changed it so that I fly from Luang Prabang to Hanoi after my return to Toronto which is physcially impossible to actually fly. As such, I still don’t have a confirmed flight. It has taken forever and I am worried.
It has been a while since our last update and I attribute that to poor internet here. I paid $140 US for fast internet (per month for 3 months) and it was fine for about 5 weeks and now I am lucky if I can even log on.
We managed to return to Nong Boakham for the final round of filters for the village. Those who have read my previous entry about this village wil remember that not everyone was there to receive their filters, and several had been broken in transit. So we were finally able to complete the village.
With the arrival of our two newst visitors from The Rotary Club of Scarborough, we were excited for our next adventure, Joan and John have been a delight to be with and while Joan is well seasoned, working in third world countries, I think it has been an eye-opener for John in some respects.
We started with an easy day by taking them to Kwangsi Water Falls and Bear Reserve, just 45 minutes from Luang Prabang. Along the way though we stopped at a secondary school to review there request for additional rooms. We looked at the sight and they had already installed the posts and roof. Their request was for $4,000 US to finish the school. Upon closer inspection, we found a lot of issues with their request. First, the posts were very small, and the roof trusses and support beams were much too thin to hold the roof during the heavy monsoon rains so we would need to double up on the wood to give it stability. The other issue was that there was no overhang to speak of…roof overhangs of at least 2 1/2 metres are standard with every school. Despite our concerns, we spent the next day reviewing their request and putting together a full materials lists. Our estimates were just over $18,000 US without consideration for school furniture or the material needed to shore up the roof. We would also have to either rebuild the roof or construct a separate overhang. In summary, I really don’t want to put our name on something that I consider to be substandard. Their reason for putting in a much lower price was because they couldn’t attract any NGO’s to assist them.
After dinner and a good nights rest for our guests, we took them to the UXO Office (Unexploded Ordinance Museum). To see the movie, still pulls at my heart strings. The secret war was such a disaster for everyone and an embarassment for the US. Afterwards we headed back to my house and sorted through all the goodies our guests had brought, in preparation for our trip. Here are just a few of the items.
The following morning we started out 4 day, 3 night road trip to various villages. Nothing is easy to get to of course so we took our time. Our first stop was to visit a kindergarten in Phonsavanh and to distribute uniforms for a rather large team. I have video too.
One of the trip highlites and reasons that Joan and John came was to teach feminine hygiene and general hygiene to the secondary school girls. During secondary and high school, many of the girls drop out, often because the girls are embarassed during that special time of the month. As cheap as they are, many can’t afford to buy the hygiene pads in these rural villages so we decided to start a test project for a year in hopes that more girls will attend school and the dropout rate will fall, especially if we provide the pads for them (on a quarterly basis).
We also walked around the back of the school to take a peek at the dormitories. It is a rural village to begin with but many come from even smaller villages to live and go to school.
We continued up to complete distribution of our last water filters and then to Katang Xieng for an inspection.
Tonight we will take our guests to a Lao BBQ. That should be interesting.
With the much anticipated arrival of friends from British Columbia, Canada, we sent Siphan up ahead to organize the delivery of 250 water filters to four villages. Of course there are always complications. By now we have come to expect the unexpected. The delivery truck left on time, with plenty of time to get here but decided he wanted to spend two nights in Vientiane, rather than one night, despite explicit instructions and agreement. This threw the entire process off. Village chiefs had to be called who in turn had to call all of the people who had left the village to meet up with the truck; the delivery of replacement parts to Luang Prabang had to be cancelled and the final 14 water filters had to be delivered to Siphan’s house in Phonsavanh. The delay further resulted in taking an extra day to deliver everything.
Our guests arrived safe and sound and we began the next adventure.
Once we arrived at the drop off site of Pak Jeem, we loaded onto a most uncomfortable tractor and rode through streams, huge ruts and an all out bumpy ride for about an hour. The ladies were on the front of the tractor, men on the back because that is where the engine exhaust headed. We got there pretty late and were never so glad to get off.
After arriving at the village we were surprised to see that Khamdy, who we sponsored during his final years as a university student and as a teacher until he went on payroll) and his brother Somnuek. Living in Pak Jeem, they too a motor bike a few hours ahead of us and had all of the water filters set up for us. All we had to do was label them!
With 62 systems already set up, I went right into the teaching segment of the program and the audience was amazing and thrilled for a cure to their diarrhea…again, all of them rose there hands when I asked if they had experienced diarrhea recently.
During the training, we used a very specially labelled filter in honour of an Italian friend who lost her brother on New Years in Italy. Normally they would be taking pictures and video instead of me and my amateur efforts.
The villagers had a special baci ceremony waiting for us also. This was a first for some of the guests and they felt quite humbled over it, as we did.
After a rush back to Nong Khiaw for the night, dinner and a sleep, we headed to Vieng Hin. Fortunately we could drive right to the village up and down a dusty, winding road through the mountains. Here we distributed another 137 systems.
The next morning we stopped off at Siphan’s farm to give our new guests and idea of what farming was like here. Fortunately we were met with Siphan’s mom and dad and his brother. Tamara was quite interested because she grows chickens on her own…as pets (her words not mine).
For our final day of the distribution, we were in for a surprise…not exactly a fun one either. We distributed another 37 systems although more are needed. We couldn’t fit any more filters on the truck so will have to go back and I am not looking forward to it. We thought the first tractor ride was rough. Tht was a piece of cake compared to this one. The ruts in the pathways were massive, plus lots or rocks and I counted 22 rivers and streams that we crossed. It was 1 hr 20 minutes each way by tractor. I thought we would never get there! I felt quite bad for our guests but they never complained once and felt that the experience was amazing. Here was our reception when we finally arrived.
Here are a couple of images of the village and school. They are desperate to get a reliable source of water. With the dry season upon us, their current source is expected to be dry within the next couple of weeks…and in Canada, we waste more than we use, taking it for granted.
We made it back to Luang Prabang that evening and still, not a complaint…Maybe people in BC are just too polite…LOL I had a tough time sitting down for two days, had bumps, bruises, cuts and welts from the tractor…and I am going to have to do this again!
Diana (at the back on the right) was the one I was most concerned about because I wasn’t sure how the tough ride would affect her, but she presented a poem that she wrote, bringing tears to our eyes. We made Mike read it because he is a tough guy right? This says it all.
From the bank of the Mekong 2016
Yeah, though we have walked through this land of red dust
Stained by the blood of innocents,
We have feared no evil.
For these are gentle people, the gentlest of people.
And softly, softly, they steal your heart away.
Generations past, in this war torn country some did
survive, deep in the caves that sheltered them.
Tragically,even today,just a farmers hoe striking the
ground, or a child’s footfall and again the explosions of the bombs
And the madness begins again.
We came to Laos Country to bring fresh clean water for health,
And perhaps in a way a small amount of wealth.
But the gift we found was for ourself to enjoy,
The mountains high, the valleys low and the
moody rivers running free,
The poinsettia, the Palm and the rubber tree.
And the monks, they came in a procession of saffron
robes, with much dignity and ease,
Our very hearts to please.
Among our small cadre we have some as well,
As many a novice does live to tell.
Our time here is now sadly coming to a close and we are going away.
Will we come again? You may very well ask.
The answer of course is, I don’t believe you could keep us away.
Diana Cabott, 2016