The remote villages of Laos have never recovered from the 'Secret' war of the 1960's. While rich in culture and tradition, their education, healthcare and hygiene conditions are severely lacking. The average lifespan is only 56 years and average age is only 20.8, caused by poor quality water, poor hygiene and general poverty. BUT with your help we have already made a difference in the lives of over 2700 villagers.
We have built schools in the villages of Pha Yong and Had Chanh, and a 3rd school located in Done Lom is under construction. We have also distributed over 200 water filters systems and completed hygiene training for three entire villages. Each family is required to take this course before a filter is provided, in order to promote a longer, healthier and happier life. A new water source including a dam, water tank and taps has been completed, as has our first bank of hygienic toilets. It doesn't stop there. We have requests for 34 new projects and with your help, will do what we can to support as many requests as possible.
You can help in so many different ways. Before you do though, note that less than 5% will go to direct overhead costs, contrary to many NGO's who's overheads can reach 80%. Sponsors for every project will receive emailed pictures and details of how the money was spent.
Here are some examples of how you can help with your financial contribution.
- $55 buys a water purification filter for a family of 8. It will also include your name on the water filter and a picture forwarded to you with the family and the filter unit. - $12,500 US buys a school for grades 1, 2 and 3. Perhaps you would like to sponsor or assist us to sponsor a school. - $4,000 US (approx) buys school tables and desks for a three room school and a two-room kindergarten. - $700 US (approx) pays for a teacher for one year - $50 US buys education for one child for one year including school fees, 2 uniforms, shoes, backpack and school supplies.
- hygienic washroom facilities rane depending on the number of stalls and start at about $3000, but are critical to prevent more disease.
If you would like to become involved and to help the people of rural Laos help themselves lead a more fulfilling life, please email us at AdoptaVillageinLaos@gmail.com. Official Tax Receipts are not yet possible although we hope to receive charitable status this summer. Meanwhile we would still love to hear of your interest.
Please help............we cannot do this alone....
I can hardly believe that I will be on the plane in just two weeks. Can you guess where I will be in two weeks and one day? Still on the plane or in some airport! Since April we managed to put our house up for sale, sell it, buy another house back in our old neighborhood and move in. That was the easy part. We also gained charitable status of course but more importantly we have finished something like 20 presentations to various interest groups and Rotary Clubs and managed to squeeze in one fundraiser.
As of tonight we have raised just over $59,000 in cash and commitments. We have almost reached our targets but the last $10,000 is always the hardest. What is worse is that I have less than 2 weeks to do it! Indeed I am pulling out all the stops along with the few hairs left on my head. Forget the email campaign...now it's phone calls! Here is what we need; Boakham Secondary School - $3,833 (out of $25k)to start construction on Phase 1 Phon Savanh Water Project - $2,275 (out of $10,300) Hygienic Toilets for Pha Yong Village and Had Chanh School - $3,800 (out of $5K) Toilets just don't seem to be popular among donors! Perhaps they think I might inscribe their name on the ceramics? Kidding of course. Water Filters - we need just 27 water filters to match last years numbers ($55ea)
So there you have it. Indeed it has been a little stressful as of late trying to raise the rest. I wish I knew more people. I even tried an ad in our newspaper, although the total amount needed since then has changed.
I am crossing my fingers on this because I have never tried an ad of this nature before. It just went in todays weekend paper so we will see if it has any effect.
Once I arrive in Luang Prabang, I need to immediately prepare for the build of Hat Kham School, sponsored in its entirety by Jai Lao Foundation in California and thanks to Daravanh Bill's success in winning an essay contest about Hat Kham Village. This will also be our first distribution for this year's water filters. Their entourage arrives just 5 days after I do - Yikes!
With $9900 to go and 27 water filters I am sure crossing my fingers for the other projects. I won't start a project unless I have the funds to finish it. The last thing we want to see is concrete posts sticking up in an overgrown field in a third world country - I bet you all have seen that! I will try to do one last update before I head out to let you know if I was successful or not!
Where does all the time go? It is already August and I have missed two months of posts but it certainly hasn't been without activity.
First, the best news of all. We applied for Charitable Status in January of this year and despite friends telling us that it took them anywhere from 18 months to 5 years, we have been notified after just 7 months that WE HAVE BEEN APPROVED FOR CHARITABLE STATUS!!!! See the top right corner of your screen for our registration number.
Throughout the summer we have been presenting to various Rotary Clubs across our District and beyond with some success, plus we have been invited to speak at Indigo's flagship book store in Toronto in September - of course I don't even have a book. Who's complaining? Not me to be sure. We have also been asked to present at Rotary's District Conference in Collingwood in October - this is attended by all 55 clubs in the District from Toronto to Belleville. We are certainly looking forward to this.
On September 17th, please hold that evening open for us. This is our annual fundraiser to be held at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Ontario. There will be live entertainment, silent auction Lao goodies, and our presentation of course. Ted Amsden, our wonderful photo journalist will be releasing his video that night to give our followers a real taste of Laos and their people. Don't worry if you cannot manage a donation for our cause at this time - we won't lock the doors after you enter and promise not to bug you. We want you to enjoy and learn about what we have been doing in Laos - we hope it will bring inspiration to you, and in turn help someone who is needy.
I am already preparing for my return to Laos but still fundraising until the moment I have to board the plane. We have a long way to go to realize the dreams of so many Loatians that would never otherwise have a chance. Please help us make this happen.
Note also that we now accept Visa and MasterCard to give more of you a choice or payment.
On a personal note, and to add to our already heavy burden, we put our house up for sale in April, but didn't really expect to sell it this year, due to the tough economy. Well it happened. We move on August 26 to our new digs in Port Hope. I have always loved Port Hope and found that we were spending more time there than in Cobourg anyway. An added bonus too....it has been a lot of effort to manage our grounds here. At our new place, it is managed by someone else - no lawn cutting, no major gardening - yeeaaahh! More time for fundraising, planning and managing the projects we have on the go.
So in summary, please check back for more details on our September 17th event.
Since my return to Canada, I have not even had the time to take a break. I came back thinking I would take 2 or 3 weeks off but that wasn't to be. Yet for some reason I feel re-invigorated. Perhaps it is because of all of the support I received from family and friends I ran into on the street that were there for us last year. In fact I have had considerable time to reflect.
At times I feel that I don't belong here. With all the bickering you read in the newspapers over the smallest of issues, especially under the editorial sections, I sometimes wonder if they would continue to find something to complain about, after just one holiday trip to Laos. I had 21 visitors to Laos over the winter and every single one of them has said it was a life altering experience. In my case, I guess I am still living it. With the support of all of our private citizens and sponsors, $38,000 went a long way. We have helped over 2700 people in the rural villages with schools, a new water source for 45 families, water filters for every family in Pha Yong Village, Had Chanh Village, Small Huephen Village, a high school hosting 1300 students, a secondary school with 420 students and a hospital that only has water from the roof top when it rains (we hope to supply a new water source for them when I return in November), and a few other smaller projects.
Now that I have had a chance to catch my breath, I have reviewed 34 proposal requests from Laos totalling $940,000. Looking at this number over and over again, I couldn't help but just stare at it. It just seems so insurmountable. I consider myself a reasonable amateur fundraiser but 7 months to raise these funds in an economic climate that is trying recover....I just keep shaking my head.
The only way I could deal with it was to try to break it down in sections. I knew that Rotary is very supportive of anything to do with water so that helped a lot. If I can raise $50,000 at the club level, the Rotary District and Rotary International could potentially match to a total of $200,000. This would cover off the costs for the new water source projects, hygienic toilets for 2 villages, hygienic toilets for 16 schools and 175 more water filter systems. This also includes the hospital requirements which also requested a computer for admissions and some small medical instruments. That is a good sized chunk out of my target.
Next I broke down the smaller projects of bicycles for two village schools, student support requests and blackboards, although I am having a lot of trouble sourcing the good quality green ones, rather than plywood painted black (the students can't see the chalk from the back of the room!). I have also applied for sponsorship to private individuals and an organizations for all of these items except for 3 university students. Yet it is pretty hard to ask for a firm commitment if I can't even source the proper blackboards and cost.
As the third breakdown, I had given myself a target of a total of 1000 water filter systems this year. Holy crap! What was I thinking? I had to raise the price too, to $55.00 per system because that is what they ended up costing last year. I know that many of the people who kindly donated last year (202 filters sponsored last year), will do so again this year and a few of them have decided to go out on their own to try to raise more filter sales. A good friend Roland Drake, from Toronto has already raised about 20 filters. Another friend in North Carolina has vowed to raise at least 10. If I add in the 175 filters that I am including in my proposal to Rotary, the total so far is pretty significant, with the sales already made. With the wonderful help from Roland, we have finalized a brochure for the water filter systems. Please feel free to download and print off. Maybe you know someone that may wish to help a family or two?
This leaves 16 schools and I still find myself staring at the number. It is still huge. I have commitments of about $6000, a far cry from about $650,000. Indeed I have a couple of smaller sponsors up my sleeve that I will be approaching and a couple of fundraisers planned for later in the summer that might bring in another $15-20,000. I am also trying to work out some other options too. The Jai Lao Foundation in California has announced an essay competition (closes May 31) and I understand that a couple of the schools in my district may be considered. It is still just a shot in the dark but you never know. There is another shot in the dark with the possibility of speaking to a University south of the border where there may be some consideration into Adopting A Village in Laos. You never know. Still, I know I need a better plan than this to raise significant funds for these schools that are either non-existent or in shambles.
So here is my plea. If any of you can assist in the funding, or know someone or an organization that may be able to assist, I would be deeply grateful.
Meanwhile I continue to book presentations to various clubs and special interest groups. This will be ongoing throughout the summer.
My last tour of duty in Laos was to distribute water filters to Huephen Village, located about 1 hour north of Luang Prabang. The villagers has showed me their three water sources and all had completely dried up except for one that was only about 6" deep and perhaps 1 square meter - this one was drying up very quickly too. After a study and lots of fundraising we were able to raise the funds to go ahead with the project. Meanwhile, a number of families were forced to move in search of water.
I am pleased to announce that they now how water flowing into their tapheads. This project is not quite complete because we are still waiting for the concrete on the storage tank to dry but we have completed the dam, several km's of pipe, and 5 tapheads. The pipe has been temporarily diverted around the water tank but the project should be complete in a week.
Above: The Dam (about an hour trek each way from the village)
Above: The Water Tank
Above: The smiles!
We spent considerable time going over the basics of hygiene plus how to maintain the water filters and then distributed one to every family.
Thanks to all of our amazing sponsors who allowed this to move forward. Without you, who knows what would have happened to the villagers - perhaps a ghost town? As mentioned, this was my last planned task for the trip, although I did venture down to the Capital city of Vientiane to see what they had there in terms of products and services. It certainly isn't Bangkok but it has a beautiful riverfront park that opened a few months ago plus some sightseeing and more selection for shopping.
My Last week in Laos was indeed an interesting one and it was a strong reminder of why I was there in the first place, not that I ever forgot of course. Most of my work is generally drudge work requiring lots of planning, organizing, purchasing, banking, accounting, fact gathering, proposals and many, many other things that tend to fill up my days. BUT it is moments like these, I cherish and many of you will too. First up was during my last visit to Pha Yong Village. I had not been there in about a month and I knew the chief had been trying to get a letter of request down to me in Luang Prabang for 24 rolls of barbed wire to be able to build a fence around the school and field and keep the water buffalo and pigs out of the school yard. Mike and I were happy to sponsor this and so I arranged for the delivery. Once I returned to the village I was so pleasantly surprised to see that the fence was up already - it was a bg school yard and they had done it the day before. As the chief explained, each villager was also required to supply one wooden post and two bamboo poles. When asked how long it took them to build the fence and gates, his response was that it took just over two hours! Whoa....try THAT in Canada - we would probably get three quotes, haggle over the price and complain that it was taking too long! It was a last minute thought to take pictures of the fence as we were riding away so this is just a small piece of it. Next up was a water filter distribution. I had been told earlier that a number of families had moved out of Ban Huephen in search of water for their families. It had been in our plans to provide a new water source for them but more about that later. I had extra filters and was determined to distribute them before I left. I had visited a 1300 student high school that was bursting at the seams in terms of classroom sizes and the structure itself due to termite damage. In one of my much earlier blog entries I included some pictures of this wooden high school. Just two weeks before I had visited the location with a potential sponsor to satisfy a request to complete a two room addition (separate building) to the school and noticed some serious degradation to the support beams of the school, to the point where one of the beams had already shifted sice I had been there the previous time. I couldn't bear it so I personally paid for and ordered new massive support beams that had to be hand made and told them to use any extra money from that to put towards a cement floor in the new addition. On this trip I was there to teach about proper hygiene to the students and teachers and to disribute some of the extra water filters. Somnuek Bounsa (the general manager of Le Belair Hotel) delivered them with me in his truck and we were both shocked when we arrived. As soon as our truck stopped on the grounds, we heard the school bell ringing (actually it was the rim of an old truck tire) and the kids running and lining up both sides of a pathway leading from our truck. It took us a minute to realize they had something planned for us. All the students and teachers lined up both sides of us that led right up to one of the new rooms and they were clapping in unison for us. Inside the large room, bacci had been prepared for us. All the teachers, all the graduating students and select students from other grades had been invited to attend and each student was asked to prepare a question for me. After bacci, I was asked all sorts of questions about Canada, about me and one of the teachers asked my age and if I was married - of course the entire room knew that she was looking for a husband and erupted in laughter. Her face went various shades of red. Here are some highlites; One of the questions asked during the question and answer period was if we provide support for university and within an hour these four boys had already neatly written CV's and letters of request to us. This is just the first stage. I now have to give them more details on the rules and subsequent competition. We gave out 6 water filters to this school. After we left the high school we went to a secondary school and dormitory to deliver more filters. We were met with lots of enthusiasm here as well. I will be back with more water filters for this dormatory. There is no water there at all - the kids have to go down to the river to bathe. Although, there is a new trench that has been dug and we are told that the school should be getting water soon. We delivered the last two water filters to the derelict hospital I included in two of my earlier blog entries. They have to bring water in since there is none on the premises but at least the water can be used for drinking water with the help of two new filters. Their request for a well and new latrines is being considered as an Adopt A Village In Laos for next year. You will notice one of the patients lying in bed in the background. They actually had four patients at the time in a 10 bed hospital. I wonder what happens during their busy season.
I returned last week from my last trek. I have to admit that it was not my best trip although there were some pretty amazing highlites. It started the night before I left when my itinerary was changed and it was too late to change my scheduled meetings. The main purpose of the trip was to purchase materials and teach the contractor how to build hygienic toilets and sceptic bed, plus transfer some money to complete a fence and finally, to visit the final 5 new villages who had submitted requests for schools, toilets and water. As an FYI, this program I use to post my blogs has driven me up the wall. Please bear with me as I try to keep you up to date but I will be looking for a better program when I return. As I got to the Namba bridge, about 35 minutes south of Nong Khiaw I went into a restaurant to wait for some villagers who were to greet me from Ban Pha Yong. It turned out that the restaurant had no food and no drinks. Imagine a restaurant that doesn't sell anything to eat. We finally met up and I managed to purchase many of the materials I needed and after a bite to eat we headed to Viengkham (about 4 villages south of Nong Khiaw where there is a turn off to Pha Yong Village) and proceeded to the home of a friend of one of the Pha Yong Villagers. There, I had about 1200 holes drilled in some pipe for the sceptic bed since sceptic pipe wasn't available. This went well into the night so we 'dined' there with the family. I had been fortunate up until now but that was to end. The dinner just did not agree with my stomach. We barely got back to Pha Yong (around 11pm) and I became violently ill. I couldn't think of a worse place to be sick - there were no toilets, only bush, it was pitch black outside and started to pour rain...in fact it poured rain the entire night. Needless to say that everytime I went outside I was soaked to the bone and freezing.
Above: Mr. Souk is the head contractor, who was the one responsible for building the extension on Pha Yong School. He did such a beautiful job, I have him lined up for several more after this hygienic toilet project. With many of the materials delivered, they expected to start right away.
Above: The sceptic tank is in the background. It wasn't exactly a perfect location. The area behind it has to be cleared and levelled.
I spent two days recuperating and worrying about how I was going to be able to finish this last trip because I knew I wouldn't be back until next November. It took three sessions of training so that I could rest in between but I did manage to finish it. The next morning Bounmy, my host, translator and good friend rode me back to Sop Khan Village so I could catch a boat to Nong Khiaw. We almost made it and were certainly in close walking distance to Sop Khan when the chain broke on his motorbike. Fortunately it wasn't serious and it was an easy walk to the river. Bounmy was able to fix his bike fairly quickly and head back to his village, then back to Luang Prabang.
In Nong Khiaw I was to deliver an English dictionary to someone I had promised from my earlier trip there, meet with Madame Bountom (head of education) and Governor Bounsom but of course, the student wasn't around, and the Governor with his wife had headed to Luang Prabang. So much for that idea. I also no longer had a translator which I knew I would need if I were to continue the trip. The translator that I had arranged to meet me there, had indeed run into me the day before in Pha Yong Village with another couple. It was only by coincidence that we ran into each other and the tourists told me that he would be with them for thenext couple of days. Hmmmm. So much for the translator!
I did manage to find a translator and trekker at the last minute although I paid dearly for him because the trip had to be considered a tour package. So be it. I was feeling better and felt I needed to push on so we did the 2 1/2 hour boat trip and trek. It turns out that Kham Fan was a great trekker and was quite optimistic about the future, just what I needed to keep a positive attitiude. His translations weren't perfect but I wasn't complaining. ( I ran into the same tourists that had hired the previous tour guide/translator when I returned to Luang Prabang and they mentioned that their guide complained the whole time so I guess it was a blessing in disguise).
We ended up trekking in the rain, and the paths were about as mucky as you can get. I am sure I had two inches of mud on the bottom of my shoes, slipping and sliding all the way. It took us twice as long to get anywhere but the views (in between the short pauses between rains) were nothing less than spectacular. At times I wanted to just find a place to sit and absorb everything I was seeing. I wish I knew more words to describe the feeling of euphoria and beauty all around me. I felt completely at peace for the first time since I arrived.
Here are a couple of pictures I took during the trek to Ban Mae to give you an idea of the scenery. The village is located approximately 2 1/2 hours south of Nong Khiaw by boat, then another 1 1/2 hours souteast on foot.
The pictures aren't particulary clear due to the rain but the views reminded me of what I would see in Vietnam on National Geographic. Here are some highlites of the villages and schools. Above: Mueng Xien Village and Primary School. We had received a request for funding for a primary school but when we arrived, we were a little surprised at what we saw. We found out later that they had requested a secondary school, not a primary school. Even the teachers were unaware (although I was told that they would not normally be informed of this since the two schools are unrelated). Mueng Xien was the wealthiest of the villages we saw in this area. Above: Ban Na Lea. This was more along the lines of what I was expecting to see. This is the poorest area of the 5 village trek. Na Lea is located about a 15 minute walk from Mueng Xien and will be considered a priority for this region.
Above: Ban Huey Lae. The villagers from Ban Na Lea were so excited to see us that they insisted on riding us to the this village by tractor. I was shocked to see the chairs!!!! I felt quite stupid really and the chairs were so uncomfortable because we had to hold them in place for the whole trip. On the way back we insisted that the chief and his administrator sit in those chairs and we laughed all the way back once they realized just how uncomfortable they were.
As you can see, another derelict school in need of attention - the roof was leaking badly, not to mention the condition of the walls.
Above: Ban Mae, perhaps the most interesting. You will note that despite the conditions of the school, the kids were busily making something in art class with scraps of paper they ripped out of their notebooks. I asked the teacher to pick the two star students and here they are.
Above: Ban Pak Jeem. This is a primary school and they have requested a secondary school for the region. Currently the kids have to go quite a distance to get to secondary school. At least two villages will be going to the new school once it is built.
Above; Mr. Kham Fan, translator and guide. Always cheerful and keeping me upbeat during the wet and cold weather, I really appreciated his support. Thank You Kham Fan.
I did manage to run into Madame Bountom, finally upon my return from the trek. Governor Bounsom was in Vientiane so I never did manage to meet with him. My memories of this trip, good and not-so-good will be with me forever.
I am into my last week in Laos before returning to Canada and I have two days left of water filter distribution to four villages, fortunately all by road.