Brave New World-Laos Update

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.

Last load of water pipe arrives and is offloaded for overnight storage. Tractors arrived the next morning for transport to the village.

Start of Rainy Season

Rainy season has arrived really early, so work is limited to only half a day. The rain starts about noon each day.

At least mornings are cool and the dust has cleared

Pipe is unravelled, ready for the long drag to the installation point and more rain

Rather ingenious way to unravel the pipe with no assistance

Every able-bodied man, woman and child assists. It should be noted that these children want to help and are not forced.

The children gather around for the excitement of seeing running water in the village.

The children were so excited, and noisy! A couple of video clips were taken but the children drowned out our narrator!

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

 

 

 

13 Villages – 290 Water Filters Distributed and a Permanent Water Supply Concluded

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.

Left To Right: Kirsten from Denmark, Bounsom (Student), Steve Rutledge, Keo (Siphan’s wife). It was a very peaceful, beautiful ride with stunning scenery.

Filters and training are ready to go, as the bell rings (actually it was a tire rim) to invite the families to the newly constructed community centre, called the Ban LathAnn Meeting House.

These filters, as with the filters throughout the next three villages, were supplied by The Rotary Clubs of Burnaby and Ladner, BC, as well as many private donors from the Vancouver, Canada area. These students are posing with the filters for the school.  Being a Sunday, the school was closed and the students were not in uniform.

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.

2 more filters for Done Loum Public School.

After another baci celebration, we were able to return to our guest house just in time for sunset.

Returning to our guesthouse near Nong Khiaw along the Ou River.

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.

Teaching hygiene to the villagers before distribution, with special emphasis to talk about proper handwashing etc., from the filter instead of a shared bucket, and discussion around the coronavirus and hoof and mouth disease which is killing their animals.

Typical Hmong Family with their brand new water filter! 10-12 years of life for the filter, with proper maintenance.

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.

The student body representative thanks us for the gift of clean water.  The white patches on her head are medicated and used to reduce headaches.

Fortunately, it was still early, meaning it wasn’t too hot yet. When it came to teaching about the bacteria, represented by different coloured sparkles, every student wanted to participate…meaning it took a long time to sprinkle sparkles on everyone’s hands as part of the demonstration.

The donation of these filters was made by Global Change for Children, with sincere thanks.

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.

The inaugural pipe wrench was officially handed over to the District Head of Hygiene and the village as representation of the official ending of the project and handing over of all assets to the village.  The pipe wrench will be kept by the village chief for future repairs.

School Supplies were distributed to the 1st and 2nd graders…plus quite a few preschoolers.

Now the fun part!

An offering to the spirits and to our team….not for the faint of heart or stomach…Pig head and tail!

The central offering to the spirits. The cotton strings were tied around our teams wrists for good luck, good health and long life.

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.

We would like to sincerely thank the 17 Rotary Clubs that participated with this project, leading with the Rotary Club of Orillia and a matching grant from District 7010, Clubs from District 7080, 5050, 7090 and of course 7070, plus several private donors who made this happen. See what we can do when we work together???   THANK YOU!

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.

not as many students at this school, but they were indeed grateful, more-so the teachers.

Our sponsored secondary student, Bounsom sitting by the school bell. It is surprising how well the sound carries.

Well dressed students!

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.

This is part of a 3 year program to assist young women and increase the number going to secondary school. This is the second such project, after the huge success of the three year pilot project.  These feminine pads were primarily donated by some very generous private sponsors. One of the conditions of continuance was to make sure the segregated girls washrooms were clean and outfitted properly with plastic bags and proper trash bins.  They were perfectly maintained.

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.

Fence ready for loading.

This year’s bridge, on our trek back to the Ou River. No pictures were taken crossing this bridge because we didn’t look very glamorous.

Back in Luang Prabang with lots of pictures to identify and edit, email, plus bookkeeping and reporting to do before we continue with the next field trip

 

 

Ban Houay Khan and Sandluangnoi

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.

House, also where church services are held.  Note the cross on the podium.

2 water filters for the school. It was a Saturday so the primary school students and preschool students were not in uniform

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.

A very dusty village! Our lungs are still suffering from all the dust in the air. Noted is the extreme poverty. The school room is only thatched roof and bamboo for the half walls.

It was a hot day!

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.

It was somewhat of a cloudy day so it was easier to do the training. Siphan is heading it off, with the Hmong chief translating for us. We don’t have a good shot of the crowd – this represents about 20 percent of the group.

It was a bit of a challenge for this young guy to try to hold the water filter on the back of the bike while tying it down with a piece of rubber from a bicycle tire. With a bit of help, we managed to do it.

Typical Hmong Family – average size is around 8-10

Now this is a really young family. The boy is 14 and his wife is 13!

This boy is also 14 and with two children!

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.

Ban Mokdo Water Filters

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.

The team from left to right: Secondary School students Bounsom and Bang, Siphan, Patti, Steve and university student Tuey.

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.

Patti Lee s she prepares for a puppet show.

Patti receiving Baci strings as prayers from the villagers for good luck and a long life.

Thong Lom Water Project Update and More Water Filters

It has been a bit of a challenge keeping up with the projects and posting our progress in a timely manner.  Fortunately, our guests have been a tremendous help in posting lots of pictures to keep our facebook followers in tune with what is going on.

While the Thong Lom got off to a slow start, progress has been going fairly quickly.  We are expected to go over budget a little, due to the issue of low rivers this year.  In fact some rivers have all but dried up due to climate change.  There hasn’t been a drop of rain since our first arrival in November…a first in the 11 year history of our charity.  As such, a second dam is being built in a different river, to augment the first dam.

The dam is covered by a bamboo mat while the cement continues the curing process. The pipe in the foreground is temporary to divert the existing until the dam is ready. On top are three compartments, the first consists of large gravel to filter large sediment, the second compartment, with smaller gravel and the third one contains even smaller gravel.

As our small team drove by the village to distribute filters to another village, this caught our eye. The villagers were trenching in order to bury the pipe. It was wonderful to see so many villagers working together and actually having fun, even though the ground was solid clay.

Construction of the water tank. Again, it is great to see so many people working together to prepare the forms for the concrete. The most time consuming part is the tie wire used to tie the metal rods together for support.

The tank is all but complete. The concrete is curing and the cement lids were just poured. A new feature on top of the tank are additional filters…using more small gravel and charcoal in the three partitions. To the bottom is the access to the tank for future maintenance purposes.

A video will be prepared for this project and shared once everything is complete and the official project is handed over to the village, with the handing over of the inaugural pipe wrench.

276 Families Receive Life Changing Water Filters serving about 1400 Villagers

With the two main water projects (and a smaller repair) underway to supply water to SandLuangnoi and ThongLom with dams, water tanks, and taps throughout the villages, it began with another massive truckload of water pipe.

Meanwhile, a couple of wonderful Rotarians, Rob Fraser from the Rotary Club of Whitby Sunrise, and David Slocum with the Rotary Club of Orillia, assisted with the distribution of 276 water filters in 3 villages.

The first village of Keaup, was actually a little closer than had been estimated, in Chomphet District across the Mekong River.  The December distributions are generally a bit rushed so that emails with pictures of each receiving family can get to our donors in time for the holidays.  These pictures are often offered as Christmas gifts on honour of friends and family or in memory of a loved one.  It is also the time of year when we have fewer volunteers to do the prep work and distributions.  In fact, it was little difficult to take time out to get good pictures too. Sue Miller, also from the Whitby Sunrise Club managed to edit a video for us, provided by Rob Fraser so total credit goes to them.  Here is the link;

It was taken in the only space large enough to distribute filters…the temple.  Temples are a rarity in rural Laos. 76 water filters were distributed, including one for the temple.

Mother and Family receiving their water filter

The Monk received the filter on behalf of the Temple. He was somewhat disfigured and it is thought he is a polio survivor

The next village visited was MakPhouk, located several hours north of Luang Prabang City and almost to Oudomxay Province.  The villagers held off their Khmu and Hmong New Year celebrations to coincide with our teams arrival.  The reception for us was certainly beyond expectations, despite being an extremely poor village.  106 Water Filters were distributed and school supplies provided to all the students.

These two water filters were distributed for the primary school, a gift from Global Change for Children, located out of Vancouver, Canada

Distribution of School Supplies for each student, along with soccer balls, rattan balls and net. In the foreground, Siphan is handing out small cans of fish that will serve an entire family for a meal.

Here is a link to a facebook video. Credits to Rob Fraser and Sue Miller!

The next day was a pretty rough ride for about 2 1/2 hours from Nong Khiaw, to the Village of PhaThong.  It started off as a very foggy day but upon arrival the sun was very bright and very hot…trying to find shade was an impossible task so once the filters were ready for distribution, the pictures of each family were taken inside the community centre…even so lighting was a challenge.  94 water filters distributed here.

Lots of sweat in preparing these filters…

A happy family!

The team was honoured with hand-made bags.

 

 

Water Filter Pilot Project

David, from the Rotary Club of Orillia, and past visitor to Laos (last year) has been researching a different type of water filter on his own for rural villagers, hoping to supply a lower cost alternative than the one AAVIL uses.  There is a little more work in preparation of the filters themselves and certain pieces are sourced locally, but most of the prep work can be done before heading to the village, which is a great time saver too.  The goal is to find a lower cost solution so that more water filters can be distributed each year.  So this is a pilot project to see if they can withstand the rigors of daily use by the village families, especially the children.  If successful, the next phase (next year) will be to determine the cost of transportation and customs clearance into the country with larger quantities than the 60+ units he brought with him in his luggage.

David raised his own funds from family and friends, and donated a considerable amount of his own money towards them so we are certainly thankful for his support.

Our students, looking for extra income are taught how to complete final assembly of the filter units

The holes were drilled, stickers attached before the pails left our house…a huge time saver! This is the finished product (not including the bottle that was also supplied)

Villagers listening to every word during the demonstration.

Two students who assisted in the work for the day. They were very eager to take on whatever needed.

David demonstrates the simplicity of the filter usage.

…and continues with the backwashing element to the training, to keep the filter clean.

Of course hygiene training is not complete without teaching about how easily bacteria spreads. Using colourful sparkles to represent different bacteria, and watching all the villagers wash their hands in the same water as they all do, it was clear to them, just how quickly germs carry to the next person, even if they aren’t sick.

Now it was time to ask the skill testing 5 part question. Normally I would have given out free t-shirts for correct answers, but I discovered the ones I had were way too large to give out, so 10,000 kip was the solution ($1.25).

You wouldn’t know it, but they were a pretty happy village to receive the gift of healthier living. They sure were jovial before and after the picture.

One of the receiving families posing for the picture. They also received toothbrushes and toothpaste – this was supplied by the Rotary Club of Oshawa.

There has been a rather frigid cold front go through the country for the last few days. In Luang Prabang, nightly temperatures have dropped to 4 degrees at night (colder to the north).  With no heat in the huts and houses, or insulation in the walls, it isn’t long before the inside and outside temperatures became the same.  As such, we hurriedly supplied blankets and warm coats for any student that asked, whether they were our own supported students or not.  Poor kids were just freezing!  How could anyone deny them?  Fortunately normal temperatures will begin to recover in a couple of days.

Bang (left) and Bounsom (right) are two of our students near Ban Na Lea – last year of high school.

Yesterday a Lao Canadian, living in Ancaster, Ontario visited Luang Prabang, after coming in second place for her age group during a marathon in Vientiane, just the day before.  She came to Luang Prabang to meet relatives that she had never met before.  It turned out that her uncle lived just four doors from the hotel where she is staying, and another right around the corner.  When Vanh went inside their home, she saw a picture of her grandfather on the wall.  Lots of emotions to be sure….

It was amazing to witness this tearful meeting. Vanh is on the left.  We love stories like this!