Why we are Helping and how YOU can get involved

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....

Meanwhile, please enjoy our updates below.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Had Chanh Village

Our guide and host for the next village, Had Chanh Village, arrived late and it was starting to get dark so I was beginning to wonder if we were going to be able to visit his village as planned for the next morning. There was no need to worry. Kham Lath showed up, ready for action.

(Mike and Kham Lath)

We headed back by boat along the Nam Ou River (eventually drains into the mighty Mae Kong River) about 25 minutes by slow boat again, right to his village – no trekking required with heavy backpacks! As soon as we got there we noticed a distinct difference from the village we had just come from. This village was smaller and the houses were much closer together. The entire village was surrounded by a fence and ladders made of tree branches to climb in and out of the village. This was to keep the buffalo and cows out. We had planned to stay only one night so there was a lot to do in a short time. As we entered Kham Lath’s home the walls were concrete block and it was just one big room – the living quarters and kitchen were upstairs made of board rather than bamboo.

Top Left: Kham Lath's Home
Top Right: Kham Lath's Dad
Left: Looking out of our home
Right: Candy offerings

They were among the wealthier class I suppose. Most other homes were the typical bamboo walls and built on stilts in case of flooding during the rainy season. The moment we arrived, the women started cooking and again the children of all sizes came for a visit. Crap! I had forgotten to refill our candy supplies! Fortunately Kham lath had brought some. We promised them something later though. We did refill our bottled water supplies before we left, thankfully! There was no store and the water, AFTER boiling was a yellowy-green, a bit like lemonade. No wonder there was such a high rate of infant mortality and sickness in these villages. The average life span is somewhere around 53 and I am already 54.

Below: General Pictures of the neighborhood.

There was a lot of bamboo in this first meal but generally the meals were different than those we experienced in Pha Yong village. There was also fish, a staple with every meal we ate. Still, I was eating delicately and eating more rice. As soon as we were finished, we visited the school and I am glad we did. The concrete floor of the school was disintegrating, caused by poor quality. There were concrete walls at either end of the one room school both with major cracks leading from the floor to the very top. You could see outside through the cracks. Inside there were some tables that were in relatively good shape and there were also three blackboards, one on each of three walls of the room where they taught three classes at the same time for 89 students. I wondered how they could learn anything with the distraction of the other classes going on. The rest of the structure was made from bamboo and the roof was metal with a few holes in it. It didn’t take a genius to figure they would not get another year out of this school and it was dangerous.

School Pictures

Shortly after that we met with the chiefs and other elders of the village, with similar results as the first village. They also had never been offered help from the outside world.

Above: Meeting with the chiefs

At least they were a lot closer to medical help than Pha Yong village where the trek was required before getting to the river.
We also checked the water supply – lots of pressure but not clean. Some of the houses were wired for electricity but there wasn’t any. Someone in the village had rigged up something in the river but the entire contraption was above the river level, not enough to turn the blades of the mini turbine, for sure. They would have to wait until rainy season but was told there was nobody to maintain it so I suspect it hadn’t worked for quite some time.

I went to use one of the toilets, or should I say hole-in-the-ground, but I couldn’t get the door to shut so I abandoned that idea. Fortunately one of Kham Lath’s friends saw me and whisked me over to his. It was surprisingly clean, concrete floor, a concrete basin to hold water and a ceramic squat toilet. It was a pleasant change to what we’d been used to. Still, the water had to be carried in from one of the four foot concrete water posts and I suppose there was lots of bacteria in it. There was no sink either for washing your hands so I headed over to the shower area to wash my hands. I would doubt that others would go to that trouble. Just before the Baci ceremony began we headed over to a friend of Kham Laths where they tried out the home made rice wine. OK, so they drank a little more than just a taste tester. I can’t imagine how they can drink so much and walk straight, let alone act it.

Baci began as expected – lots of chanting but definitely less formal, plus both the chief and the 2nd chief were a little more into the party scene afterwards.

Baci Ceremony

One rule we have to follow. When the chief gives you something you have to take it. After the ceremony and the offerings were done, he gave me a piece of meat that I didn’t recognize. I started chewing it and chewing it. There were chewy bones in it. I didn’t even want to think what it was. It turns out it was a starling! Yes, the entire bird. I think Mike got a whole frog. Mike also got stuck with eating sticky rice and pork fat. He had a tough time swallowing it so when he was given a shot of whiskey to wash it down, it made him gag – it was all he could do to keep from throwing up all over the platter. The chief also gave me a big piece of meat. I started eating it and thought it tasted pretty good, to my amazement. I looked down to see what it was and after the shock wore off, I asked Mike to take a look at it. It was the entire pig tongue hanging down. Everyone was watching so I just had to take a bite out of the side of the tongue and keep going until it was gone. As I was eating there was a bottle of whiskey that I had brought to Khamlath. It didn’t last very long. It was the home made rice whiskey that nearly killed me. If it hadn’t been for the chief giving it to me, I would have declined but after a couple of hours of this I couldn’t see straight anymore and it was only 3pm in the afternoon. There was lots of music and singing. They managed to convince Mike to sing. Normally a good singer, Mike was quite drunk and could only think of one song…My way. Unfortunately he could only remember one line and it sounded like it was all one note. He got lots of clapping anyway for his effort. I was to the point I had to get out but didn’t want to get up for fear of falling over everyone. But I had to get out of there, pretending to have to go to the washroom. Once I got out though, the sun was very hot and after about 15 minutes I was fine again. That is when the Baci broke up and we started playing volleyball, frisbee, badminton and a couple of other games.

Above and right: Sports, right after Baci - I managed some frisbee for about an hour but that was it.

Covered in sweat a couple of hours later it was time to take a shower. Kham lath went first and left the water on for me. There I was taking my shower as many people were still chasing balls around me. When I finished I felt so stupid. The tap didn’t work and I couldn’t figure out how to turn the water off. As my face started to get red from embarrassment, this little kid, no more than 1 meter high reaches way up, grabs a small rubber tube and shoves it up the nozzle to stop the flow. She was very respectful and didn’t laugh at me, just trying to be helpful.
That night we went from one home to another, then to four more, each with a full meal set out for us. We were literally ushered right from one meal to the next. It ended up to be 5 meals from about 6pm. Even that wasn’t so bad but we could barely walk and are butts were raw from sitting on the floor for so many hours. What was worse was that we couldn’t stretch.

The next day we got up early and met with all the kids in the village to give out little gifts and more wristbands – the kids were wonderful!

Above and Right: Stickers, balloons and friendship wrist bands were handed out (courtesy of Jennifer's Jazz-It-Up Dance Studio in Port Hope)

After that we headed out by boat to visit several villages to look at their school situation. One school we came across was being reconstructed. Now this was a real shocker. It was being sponsored by a secondary school in Richmond, BC., some fellow Canadians and Global Perspectives 12, a program by the Canadian Government. Well Done!

School sponsored by Richmond High School in Richmond, B.C.

Our Next Project!
Another village had a school that was literally falling apart made entirely of bamboo. This will be our next project. We met with the chief who was thrilled. Unicef had visited them 6 years ago and promised a new school but they had not heard from them since that time. Another Canadian though was also working on a new water supply for them. The bottom right picture is of the fish we bought, just caught a few minutes earlier.

In yet another village we learned what not to do. The village had been given equivalent to $3000 to fix an old bamboo school but the villagers felt they needed a new one so decided to tear down the old one and start building. They made their own concrete blocks. We were dismayed at the construction. There were holes in many of the blocks so with a closer look, we felt the area around one of the holes and the block started to crumble in our hands. First the walls of the block were way too thin, plus they didn’t use enough concrete. This building will be very unsafe for the kids but I don’t dare get involved. I sure wouldn’t want to be held responsible for this. We call it the sandcastle school.

Left: Sandcastle School (we call it that)

How could I leave this village without showing you these priceless images.

We spent the next night back in Muang Ngoi. Although we had planned to be there for two nights before heading back to Luang Prabang, our work had been completed so we just stayed the one night.
Our trip back to Luang Prabang wasn’t exactly uneventful. Our host Kham Lath had left a piece of luggage in his home village so we stopped off there on the way back. I have never seen anyone move so fast. As he came down the steep riverbank with bare feet, he was like a jack rabbit. After arriving in Nong Khiaw we decided to wait for the mini van, rather than take the truck - at least there would be no stops and the trip would be faster. The van left 1 1/2 hours after the truck and we arrived by mini van at the same time as the truck arrived. While unloading the luggage, Kham Laths luggage was missing - apparently left on the boat. We found out later that it had been removed, given to the boat ticket office and while they claimed it, it disappeared after that. We suspect it may have been the staff. It was sad that he lost several of his belongings including his land deed and every school certificate right back to his first grade.

Thank you Kham Lath for your dedication to your village, your hospitality, your translations and being there when we needed you.

Back at our luxury hotel I met with the hotel manager, Mr. Somnuek Bounsa who had been out of the country when we first arrived. I learned much more about the projects he was working on and he certainly wanted to get involved with us. He managed to get me an appointment with the Director of Education, and although Somnuek had done several school projects, he had never actually had the opportunity to meet with the director so this was a positive experience for him as well. The director thanked us for the work we were doing and agreed to supply us with blueprints for the standard government approved schools of various sizes for us. This was wonderful news. It certainly would save me hours of time and lots of money from trying to come up with similar designs. He also asked if we would consider schools that they recommend and I agreed although mentioned that our focus was in the remote villages.

Right: a baby monkey rescued from the middle of the road. It was quite sick at the time but getting better by the day.

Back to luxury - Yeahhhh!

Water Filter Unit
I met a couple of times after that with Somnuek who introduced me to a water filter that had recently been approved by the Lao Government. Even better, it was being manufactured right in Lao for a cost of only $44 US ($50 Canadian depending on the day plus shipping). I took a look at one and reviewed their brand new web-site. Although it is still missing information, I requested more and have decided that subject to proof of Government endorsement, I would try to provide one for each family in each village that we build a school for, as a start. I have found out that the technology is approved by the World Health Organization. As of today (July 22, 2010), I have 134 sponsors for individual units.

Right - Somnuek, our hotel manager with a water filter unit.

Once back in Canada I have had some time to reflect. For one, I will not leave these people if there is something I can do for them. Since then I have been working on sponsors, marketing, project management and costing and a host of other things to make this happen. I hope to be ready to go full blast when I return late this year.

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