Hmong New Year Celebration

It is difficult to take pictures while being part of the celebration.  The ceremony itself started with the arrival of the District Governor, District Hygiene Director and so on down the line.  There were a few speeches, Hmong Dance and then the Governor spoke.  He was very eloquent and spent most of his time speaking about the care and maintenance of the new water system, starting with the phrase ‘Water is Life’.  Towards the end, he spoke about the advances in the country over the last year, discussing the new railway that is under construction and the Lao-hosted Asean summit coming soon, with President Obama attending.  We were really impressed!  The village gave the governor a very long update on their accomplishments over the year and handed out awards.  I handed over the inaugural pipe wrench to conclude our project and officially hand over ownership and responsibilities.  Here are a few highlites;

Mmmmm....delicious goats blood..NOT!

Mmmmm….delicious goats blood..NOT!  The rest of the dishes include rice of course plus various goat dishes.

You will note that in my right hand I just put down the hand sanitizer - since everyone shares with their hands, I took the liberty of giving some to everyone around me...

You will note that in my right hand I just put down the hand sanitizer – since everyone shares with their hands, I took the liberty of giving some to everyone around me…including the governor beside me.

Todays food included mostly beef - I stuck with sticky rice and bbq'd beef that I could recognize.  Gary generally ate everything he laid his eyes on except the buffalo bile...

Todays food included mostly beef – I stuck with sticky rice and bbq’d beef that I could recognize. Gary generally ate everything he laid his eyes on except the buffalo bile…

My presentation of the pipe wrench to the Governor and on to the chief.

My presentation of the pipe wrench to the Governor and on to the chief.

Here I am receiving a framed certificate on behalf of the government with their sincerest thanks for our support.

Here I am receiving a framed certificate on behalf of the government with their sincerest thanks for our support.  There is a certificte there for Serena and Massimo from Italy also. Unfortunately, they had to return to Italy early due to a very sad and sudden death of Serena’s brother.

Traditional Hmong dance...quite amazing - wish we understood the story he was telling us through dance.

Traditional Hmong dance…quite amazing – wish we understood the story he was telling us through dance.

I think the boys represented animals with their horns but the Hmong culture is so different and both the Khmu and Lao people do not understand it.

I think the boys represented animals with their horns but the Hmong culture is so different and both the Khmu and Lao people do not understand it.

A gift of a beautiful scarf by the chief on behalf of the village.

A gift of a beautiful scarf by the chief on behalf of the village.

The sign was installed on a temporary basis - the permanent cement posts will be done this week.

The sign was installed on a temporary basis – the permanent cement posts will be done this week.  The sign is located as one enters the village.

We are so humbled by the support we have received from Rotary Clubs right across the country from Vancouver Yaletown and Coquitlam Sunrise, British Columbia to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. In addition to the Interact Club of Clarington and the Rotoract Club of DC/UOIT.  District 7070 clubs included a matching District Grant and funds from The rotary Clubs of Bowmanville, Whitby Sunrise, Pickering, Ajax, Courtice, Etobicoke, Markham-Unionville, North York, Oshawa Parkwood, Port Hope, Richmond Hill, Scarborough, Scarborough North, Toronto, Toronto West, Whitby and Uxbridge.  It is amazing what we can accomplish together!

 

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Vieng Hin Water Concluded

As our avid readers are aware, nothing is ever straightforward and usually difficult at best.  So many things can go wrong and usually do BUT I am proud and happy to announce that this project was concluded with only minor hitches along the way.  We arrived back in Vieng Hin the day before their celebration of Hmong New Years and the party was pretty much underway.  Each village family (137 families) was required to pay 100,000 Kip which is a lot for them, in advance of the celebrations.  So on the first day they slaughtered a goat and 2 chickens.  A little further into the village we noted the cultural ball toss.  This is a practice whereby the boys and girls, men and women dress up in their colourful traditional outfits and toss a ball back and forth to their hopeful future partners. If someone drops the ball, it is believed that they are not interested in the partner.  These days it generally means that that they can’t catch (that would be me).  At some point the man/boy invites the girl to drink and eat with them, perhaps take them to see the caves together or the farm where they can spend some quality time together.

Ball Toss among Hmong villagers.

Ball Toss among Hmong villagers.

While some Hmong will go all the way with the girl if they want to, it is generally considered sinful and the couple are required to wait a week to see if there are any other takers for the women.  This is a nervous time for the couple.  Another Hmong man may visit anytime during that week, usually from a different village, and claim the women.  If she isn’t interested, it is simply too bad for the woman because she will get locked into a room until she accepts or until the man feels it is a useless attempt (at least a week).  The woman is fed of course.  I suspect this doesn’t happen very often any more but it seems unethical.  After that is marriage and lots of kids but more about that later.

After a short visit we headed to inspect the dam and the water tank.  Due to the landscape the dam location was moved about 50 metres to the south of where we thought it was going to be but not a big deal.  I should point out that Gary, a good friend from Canada (Richmond Hill) was there also and each of us was assigned a vilage Ambassador.  Indeed they were beautiful but we know better than to flirt with them.  The girls were certainly flirting with us though.  Deb (Gary’s wife), when you see the picture, don’t get too excited…Gary was a perfect gentleman…I might have a couple of pictures though that could be considered as blackmail material (KIDDING).

Looking at the dam from above.

Looking at the dam from above. You can see the board holding back the river.  They wanted to wait for us to arrive so they could officially remove it as conclusion to the project (allowing the river to continue to flow)

You will note that they left the top board in so that they could officially lift it to allow the water flow to continue downstream.

They are getting ready to remove the board…needless to say, we stayed out of the path to avoid getting wet.

The two village ambassadors and the chief pose for the picture. The lady on the left is 16, in Grade 10 and she is from a family of 11. to my right, thelady is in grade 11 and comes from a family of 17!!!

The two village ambassadors and the chief pose for the picture. The lady on the left is 16, in Grade 10 and she is from a family of 11. to my right, thelady is in grade 11 and comes from a family of 17!!!

Don't worry Deb...

Don’t worry Deb…the lady standing by Gary, was really after me.

This is one huge tank for 137 families. However, considering the average number of people per family, I should not be surprised.

This is one huge tank for 137 families. However, considering the average number of people per family, I should not be surprised.

The ladies followed us right up the ladder. We are standing on top of the water tank.

The ladies followed us right up the ladder. We are standing on top of the water tank.

The last task of the day, before heading back to a guest house was to handout uniforms from Afrisoccer who donated them on behalf of Ontario’s Durham Region Sports Clubs.  They provided slightly used jerseys, shorts and socks.  The one issue with the socks was that only a couple of the players had proper shoes – they usually play barefoot.  The soccer field was in use but it didn’t take the team long to dig post holes, put in posts and string a rattan ball net.  We have video (still needs to be edited) but the kids were pretty nervous playing in front of the Falang (foreigners).

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These kids are sooooo shy! I had to tickle them to get them to smile for the camera.

These kids are sooooo shy! I had to tickle them to get them to smile for the camera.

Here is a preview of my next post.

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Celebrations and Vieng Hin Update

With the near completion of the first distribution of water filters to Nong Boakham, I spent the next two days emailing everyone in time for Christmas….just made it.  It helped that I spent a little more to get high speed internet.  Instead of taking 4-5 minutes per pictures, it took about 15 seconds each.

So Christmas came quickly – Our team celebrated our Christmas dinner at the Mango Garden restaurant – glad we made reservations.

From left: Siphan, Oudone (university student), Massimo and Serena from Italy (Ink for Charity), Art from Boone, North Carolina, myself and Boun (last year of high school), sponsored by a friend of mine, Gary Thompson who arrived late last night from Richmond Hill, Canada

From left: Siphan, Oudone (university student), Massimo and Serena from Italy (Ink for Charity), Art from Boone, North Carolina, myself and Boun (last year of high school), sponsored by a friend of mine, Gary Thompson who arrived late last night from Richmond Hill, Canada

We had heard that rain was coming to Vieng Hin in two days, so we wasted no time.  On December 26, we went up there to inspect the progress and check in on a cuple of other villagers while we were up that way.  Of course we took our Santa hats too.

In just 4 days, the villagers had trenched 7km of ditch and laid the pipe - water was already running.

In just 4 days, the villagers had trenched 7km of ditch and laid the pipe – water was already running.

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Note the water tank under construction.  They planned to start mixing the cement and pouring, the following day.

Note the water tank under construction. They planned to start mixing the cement and pouring, the following day.

The hats were a big hit.  Siphan is standing with the engineer and the village chief

The hats were a big hit. Siphan is standing with the engineer and the village chief

Rather sobering - bomb oridnance right outside the school...perhaps as a reminder to the students of their history.  We are considering building a school here net year - you can get a glimpse of the condition of this one...lots of termites too.

Rather sobering – bomb oridnance right outside the school…perhaps as a reminder to the students of their history. We are considering building a school here net year – you can get a glimpse of the condition of this one…lots of termites too.

The chief was kind enough to take us to the caves where the villagers and the entire district ran to for cover during the bombing raids.  More than a thousand people lived in one cave (there are three) for year.  I will be showing a video of the caves upon my return but here are a couple of pictures.

Trekking to the biggest cave.

Trekking to the biggest cave.

More than 1000 people stayed in this cave because it had a source of fresh water, water falls, a place to cook and even fish.

More than 1000 people stayed in this cave because it had a source of fresh water, water falls, a place to cook and even fish.

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The chief went to great lengths to talk about the helicopters with rocket launchers.  So many people didn’t make it to the caves.  Mind you, the local villagers kept this place a secret so their enemies wouldn’t give away the location.

On our way back to Luang Prabang, we visited Ban Na Lea to check in on the school, the water project (completed the previous year) and one of the sponsored students.  The path to the village was washed away in many parts and no makeshift bridge across the river.  Once we got there, we noticed one boy pretty much by himself but other kids were helping him to move around.  A closer inspection revealed that the kid was legally blind.  He got  virus when he was 9 months old (he is now 12 years), and had to have one eye removed.  With the other eye, he can see a little motion only.  This was very emotional to see, especially in a village who could offer him no hope whatsoever for the future.  At least he has been stable for the last several years.

We are currently investigating to see if anything can be done and will take him (and his father) to Thailand when I have to exit the country.  I sure hope we can do something.

We are currently investigating to see if anything can be done and will take him (and his father) to Thailand when I have to exit the country. I sure hope we can do something for him.  It is so disheartening to see this and to know that nobody seems to care…even the father seems to have written him off.  There wasn’t a dry eye among our volunteers when we were told this.

If not there are blind schools that he may be able to attend and perhaps we will fundraise for support.  The uneducated father basically offered his child to me…so sad.

After they served us a lunch of freshly slaughtered and cooked chicken, along with Lao Lao and Beer Lao (cost me three cases – each equivalent to 24 bottled – man can they drink and we were only there for a couple of hours). It didn’t help that they kept refilling our glasses.

The after effects of copious amounts of Lao Lao and beer Lao - As you can see, Serena must have been a bit tipsy...LOL

The after effects of copious amounts of Lao Lao and beer Lao – As you can see, Serena must have been a bit tipsy…LOL

On to our next adventure!

Progress with Filter Distribution.

During our trip to Donesok, we stayed overnight so that we could attend a school opening with SKL (School For Kids In Laos).  SKL is a Charity out of Winnipeg whose focus is schools.  It was a heck of a drive to get there but here are a couple of pictures.

Morning Alms giving at the village we stayed overnight on our Donesok trip

Morning Alms giving at the village we stayed overnight on our Donesok trip

Students lined up to show respect for their sponsors

Students lined up to show respect for their sponsors

Ken (SKL)was everywhere - everytime I tried to take a photo, he darted off...but I got him - on the right in the light blue shirt, standing

Ken (SKL)was everywhere – everytime I tried to take a photo, he darted off…but I got him – on the right in the light blue shirt, standing.  You can see the new school in the background

On our way back, we stayed overnight in Vang Vieng – I always wanted to go there to see the caves and to see what everyone was talking about.  What a busy little place – lots of drunk tourists.

Another significant hiding place for the local population during the secret war.

Another significant hiding place for the local population during the secret war.

On our way back to Luang Prabang, there were lots of amazing views from the highlands.

Lots of sharp turns and not much to stop us from going over the edge. Glad we didn't try this at night! Up until 7-8 years ago, this was still very unsafe from Hmong tribesman that would ambush passersby. Our builder was a soldier there to help keep it safe.

Lots of sharp turns and not much to stop us from going over the edge. Glad we didn’t try this at night! Up until 7-8 years ago, this was still very unsafe from Hmong tribesman that would ambush passersby. Our builder was a soldier there to help keep it safe.

Once back in Luang Prabang, although tired from the trip, we didn’t have much time to waste.  Our delivery truck of water filters had already arrived at the designated drop off point.  After a short few hours of sleep, we loaded up with lots of goodies and headed to off towards Nong Boakham, which was to be our largest, one day distribution ever.

The truck was unloaded but based on past experiences, Siphan decided to open each box to make sure there was no damage during shipment.  Low and behold, there was a lot of damage!  Off to the right you can see some of the boxes where there was significant damage inside.  Apparently a skid fell over when they were loading the truck, as reported by the driver.  We had expected an element or two to be broken so we ordered extra pots just in case.  9 were broken, pus two damaged bases and a few items missing too.

The truck was unloaded but based on past experiences, Siphan decided to open each box to make sure there was no damage during shipment. Low and behold, there was a lot of damage! Off to the right you can see some of the boxes where there was significant damage inside. Apparently a skid fell over when they were loading the truck, as reported by the driver. We had expected an element or two to be broken so we ordered extra pots just in case. 9 were broken, pus two damaged bases and a few items missing too.  These filters are stacked on the side of the road awaiting more smaller trucks to arrive for the second loads.

This gives you an idea of the magnitude of the distribution.  Here we are waiting for additional deliveries by smaller trucks.

This gives you an idea of the magnitude of the distribution. Here we are waiting for additional deliveries by smaller trucks. A few of the villagers starting to gather…wait until you see the next picture!

there was organized chaos but we managed to get order somehow...

There was organized chaos but we managed to get order somehow…

We had informed the provincial hygiene office that we would be there that day.  They took it upon themselves to join us for a POLIO IMMUNIZATION DAY and asked us to participate.  Most of you are aware that Rotary largest international project ever is to readicate polio around the world.  Until that is done, 3rd world countries continue to be immunized each year.  With just two countries to go, we are THIS CLOSE! This was by far the highlight of my trip this year.

Two drops is all it takes to immunize a child. The first child screamed his poor little head off.  This one was more cooperative as you can see.  It sure pulled the heart strings....and I didn't have to fly to India as other fellow Rotarians did...LOL

Two drops is all it takes to immunize a child. The first child screamed his poor little head off. This one was more cooperative as you can see. It sure pulled the heart strings….and I didn’t have to fly to India as other fellow Rotarians did…LOL

Polio Immunization drops.

Polio Immunization drops.

The kids, awaitng their turn to receive the drops.

The kids, awaitng their turn to receive the drops.

Posing with the kids and hygiene officials

Posing with the kids and hygiene officials

We took this opportunity to present to the Head of the hygiene office, a water filter on behalf of the village clinic.

We took this opportunity to present to the Head of the hygiene office, a water filter on behalf of the village clinic.

Next, we wanted to thank a very special lady in our lives..Dr. Anna Tucka who has graciously donated toothpaste, toothbrushes and toothpaste every year since we started distributing filters.  We will offer thanks to additional sponsors in the coming posts – lots more to distribute.

Thank you Anna!

Thank you Anna!  We will send you a short video upon my return to Canada.

...and on with the hygiene training and distribution...4 hours later, we were pretty much done, our backs spent, thristy, hungry and wanting to lie down where we stood...LOL

…and on with the hygiene training and distribution…4 hours later, we were pretty much done, our backs spent, thirsty, hungry and wanting to lie down where we stood…LOL

I should note that not everyone got their filters – 28 families did not show up because they were in their fields, at the hospital (due to sickness) or in another village.  As a result, we will dsitributed these when we return in January.  Some of you will not have received all of the pictures yet, because of this.  For the Rotary funded filters, I will load the into dropbox for all to see and will email each club, the coordinates.

A Glitch!

Once we had the first project well underway in ViengHin, and a schedule to roll-out the first 257 water filters, it was time to get our last major project underway…Donesok School construction.  It was a heck of a long drive on a very bumpy road but we finally got there, after ensuring we hadn’t lost any limbs along the way.  The village visit went well and the chief reconfirmed the village’s commitment to provide sand, gravel and wood for the framing of the roof.  The first surprise however was that there were ony 16 students at the school, not the 63 students (with a waiting list for the next term to start).  The chief told us that they had sent 20 students to another school until the new school was built.  Still, tht made a total of 37 – We also so no evidence of other students that were old enough to go to school, but forced to wait until the new term (granted, they could have been working in the fields).  Concurrently we met with a water engineer for the dug well and had brought the builder for the school with us.  Satisfied that everything was generally in order, we retired to a village with a guest house, about 2 1/2 hours away so that we could prepare contracts with the intent on presentation and signing the next morning.

Things were not as they seemed…at all.  The village met that night also, to discuss and to assign duty tasks but something did not go right at the meeting I guess.  While I suspect some of it might have been politically motivated (perhaps a power struggle in the village), a decision was relayed to us that the villagers would not provide anything.  Our team had previously noted that there was lots of sand a short distance from the school, on the banks of the river…free for the taking.  This was extremely disappointing news…not to mention frustrating.  Our own team had another huddle and it was agreed that it was unlikely that the villagers would maintain the school, pump and toilets either.  With no skin in the game, the pride and ownership just didn’t seem to to be there.  Even with their lies, it was a difficult decision to withdraw our support.  This left us with quite a dilemma however.  It meant finding a new project(s) quickly, emailing modification requests to our school donors and to all 19 Rotary Clubs for the water portion of the project.

After reviewing all of the requests, it was decided to approach our donors to allow us to re-designate the funds to adding two more rooms to Katang Xieng School, provide a toilet bank to Pha Yong where we had done toilet banks before, and to provide additional water filters to the rural villages (currently there are requests for over 1200 systems). We just got final approval from the Board of Directors at Global Change For Children as the last major sponsor for the school, who announced their support for the change.  Whew!  We are still awaiting decision from 3 Rotary Clubs and may have to return a small portion of funding to the Rotary District due to their funding rules -it doesn’t prevent us from reapplying for the same funds but the deadline is today and with the Christmas and New Years holidays upon us, there was just no way to process everything in time.  Still, we are extremely happy with the results so far.

So Katang Xieng will get two additional rooms (doesn’t need water/toilets because it was done last year), Pha Yong will get the final bank of toilets and there will be at least another 50 water filters (serving 250 more villagers).  Fantastic!

 

Vieng Hin Water Project Update

The 7km of pipe finally arrived in the wee hours of the early morning, from Vientiane.  While it took a good portion of the day to unload from the big truck and count the inventory, it took only a few hours to reload onto 10 smaller ones and send them off to Vieng Hin.

I was surprised that they managed to get all the pipe on one truck.

I was surprised that they managed to get all the pipe on one truck.

From left: Engineer Somsouk, Village Chief Seesavat and Siphan

From left: Engineer Somsouk, Village Chief Seesavat and Siphan

A Sampling of the dozens of connectors for the pipe.

A Sampling of the dozens of connectors for the pipe.

It started to get dark pretty quickly so the pace picked up.  The locals don't like to drive during the dark, especially with terrible roads and hairpin turns in the highlands

It started to get dark pretty quickly so the pace picked up. The locals don’t like to drive during the dark, especially with terrible roads and hairpin turns in the highlands

Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snow...hmmm.  Okay, how about dust...

Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snow…hmmm. Okay, how about dust…

Loading of the last three trucks for the journey to its final resting place

Loading of the last three trucks for the journey to its final resting place

In two days we will head 6 hours south to celebrate the opening of a school by SKL Inc, a registered charity in Manitoba, and to inspect, negotiate and sign contracts for phase 3 of this water project (toilets and running water) plus a 3-room school.  Right after that, we will do the first distribution of water filters for the season – 257 units for the Village of Nong Boakham.

Rotary Funded Water Project Continues and Luang Prabang Celebrations

It has been a busy week with two Lao holidays and progress with our water project.  Monday was a National Holiday with the celebration of Lao Independence…40 years!  It rained so the festivities were moved to the new stadium which doesn’t have spectator seats..only government invited.  Still, it didn’t stop the celebrations with copious amounts of Beer Lao and loud music.  Secondly, there was the parade on Wednesday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Luang Prabang’s Unesco Heritage Designation.  Now that was a sight to see.  I think the entire population of the city was there to witness, along with neighboring villages…I couldn’t move!  I found it strange in that one would normally wait along the parade route for the procession to arrive but the parade was so long that the participants lined up at least 3/4 of the way into the parade route itself.  Those people had a very short walk to the end.  The highlite for me was watching a team of 4-5 years olds paddling a boat (on  float), led by this kid that couldn’t have been more than four years old…the little guy was really good too, shouting out orders yet keeping up the pace.  Here are a few of the pictures.

Entrants lined up at the start of the parade...the best time to take pictures..you will see why.

Entrants lined up at the start of the parade…the best time to take pictures..you will see why.  Thousands and thousands of participants.

Did I say I couldn't move?  This is why - almost impossible to take good pictures

Did I say I couldn’t move? This is why – almost impossible to take good pictures.  Thousands and Thousands of onlookers…

Again, this group was awaiting the start of the parade.

Again, this group was awaiting the start of the parade.

This was the highlight for sure.  More than 20 elephants had made the trek 240 km away just to participate in this parade.

This was the highlight for sure. More than 20 elephants had made the trek 240 km away just to participate in this parade.

I should note that I was there for the 15th anniversary – it is amazing how time flies.  Meanwhile, poor Siphan tried to make it back in time from the village of Vieng Hin.  He coordinated the transportation of 25 truckloads of sand, gravel, steel rods and cement.  It rained on and off durng these days, and delaying the transport due to terrible road conditions. The roads were primarily mud and on dangerous hills.

The drivers and village chief with Siphan enjoying a meal before the work begins.

The drivers and village chief with Siphan enjoying a meal before the work begins.

one of many truckloads

one of many truckloads

The last of the truck for the day, carrying cement.  No deliveries after dark, for good reason.

The last of the truck for the day, carrying cement. No deliveries after dark, for good reason.  The Hmong Village Chief poses for the camera.

Today Siphan will return to the transfer point with the expectation of arrival of the water pipe early tomorrow morning.  That is expected to require 10 trucks, over 7km of pipe…

Last night, Art Quickenton arrived to assist us with the projects for the next two weeks, especially for the water filter distribution of 257 filters. This is an ‘all hands on deck’ affair.  We may even convince a couple of other tourists to come with us…but first, welcome Art!

We managed to take him for a quick meal before he headed straight to bed after his long journey.

We managed to take him for a quick meal before he headed straight to bed after his long journey.  From the left, myself, Oudone (one of our university students who never declines a free meal), Siphan, Art and Serena (from Italy).  Massimo, her husband is the photographer.