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, January 17, 2011

Another Round of Lao Lao

My next round of visitors to Laos are close friends of mine - Sammy and Kate. Sammy owns Bualai Taste of Thai Restaurant in Port Hope and Kate works with her. Sammy's restaurant continues to be the busiest restaurant in town and it is no wonder. Reasonable prices, amazing food and a bubbly personality that never forgets a name or a face.
They are just here for a couple of days while they continue their tour in southeast Asia and to Sammy's village, located about 2 1/2 hours south of Udon Thani (the Thai border at Vientiane). I didn't waste anytime in getting them into the villages though. It just happened to be the coldest night of the winter though. The temperature hovered around 12 C. I know it is not like our Canadian winters but certainly uncomfortable with only light jackets.

Rotarian Lisa McCoy had been itching to get into the villages as well, to spec out a possible site location for a 'Muskoka' School that she hopes to raise funds for through the summer months.

So the four of us and an interpreter travelled up to Nong Khiaw, hitched a boat ride to Muang Ngoi and other than a stroll through the village, we just took it easy for the rest of the day. Quite frankly I think we were all happy to go to bed early just to get warm under the covers.

Today though we rented a private boat and headed to Done Lom Village first. I had received their proposal and although incomplete and missing critical information, it had already been approved by the Department of Education. We spoke with the chief to bring him up to date with where we were in the process and hope to begin construction in the next few weeks. I still have to line up the head of construction and get a signature from the Governor but the way has pretty much been cleared for us. We then took a tour of the site for the new school. The area had been cleared by the bomb squad and the trees had been felled but there is still a lot of work to do to prepare the land. They agreed to have a village meeting tonight and everyone will be pitching in to make sure the land is ready in time. Right now is the perfect time because their field work won't begin for another few weeks. After that, most will be out in the fields. Here is a picture of the land for the future school - lots of manual labour to be done yet before construction can begin.

Shortly afterwards we continued up the river to Hat Kham Village. This is the village with no school and they currently have a few tables set up in the village meeting place...a concrete floor, tin roof and low walls - certainly unsuitable during inclemement weather, not to mention that it is borrowed from the government. Some of you will recall from an earlier blog entry that the old school was destroyed by the last rainy season. Here are a couple of more pictures.

This is also the location that I have been wanting to bring Lisa McCoy to. We all got to meet the children, the parents, elders, all of whom got very excited with our visit. In fact they insisted in celebrating Bacci, yes another one.Not exactly one of my more glamorous pictures.....
Lisa is now in her final two days with me and she will be sorely missed. Sharing our stories, someone to bounce ideas off of and someone to share my experiences with. And what a wonderful cook!!!! It is amazing how she can make something out of nothing. It sure is going to be quiet around here, although my real work is just beginning.
Next week we start the water source project in Huep Han village followed immediately by Ban Done Lom with their new school. Quite frankly I am looking forward to getting started on those projects but wish Lisa were staying.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Governors, Officials and a New Village!

Pauline was pretty dissapointed at not being able to join us in our overnight visit to the villages so as soon as I got back I managed to get lucky. We were asked to join Somnuek (The General Manager) and the owner of Le Belair Resort, to visit a new village, along with the Governor of Luang Prabang, the ex governor (who sat behind me!!), the deputy governor and the heads of Education and Water and Hygiene. What a treat!

We had heard of the needs of this new village. The Government is attempting to move over 300 families consisting of Mong and Khmu, although the Mong tribe has declined. Still, about 100 families have made the move and are awaiting for land to be given to them for purposes of farming. They currently have three water tanks with taps coming directly off them although the underground piping has not been completed. Other than that nothing is finished yet. The road is a misery to ride, but they have plans to build a primary school (about 20% finished), secondary school, market, bus stop, and hygienic toilets. Many of these villagers have to travel back to their own farmland up in the hills and down in the valleys until they get new property.

We have been asked to assist of course with a secondary school, and clean water. There is a one room secondary school about 5km further up the road and the local village plans to build one more room each year. Our thought was that if we could provide the travelling students with bicycles, then only one secondary school would be required.

The villagers are extremely poor, some worse that others - most do not have latrines of any kind and just go in the bush. It reminds me of a poster in one of the villages I had seen that shows the Government trying to teach the children from pooping in the middle of the street and directing them to a nearby bush! Hmmm.....enough said.

Pauline and Lisa from A Mine Free World Foundation and Adopt A Village in Laos donated 80 mosquito nets to the poorer villagers, and Le Belair Resort donated 100 blankets.

Here are a few pictures of the memories.

This picture is of the Luang Prabang Governor, Lisa McCoy, the owner of Le Belair and myself being presented with a certificate of thanks for the mosquito nets.

Above - The villagers from Ban Nong Bue Kon patiently awaiting the start of the ceremonies, celebrating their first anniversary of the village. This village is lcoated about 2 hours southwest of Luang Prabang.

Somnuek brought a bag of goodies for many of the kids, ranging from books to clothing in an offering of hope to the new village.

From the left: Somnuek Bounsa, The owner of Le Belair Resort, The Governor of Luang Prabang and me.

This is a makeshift school run from volunteers from Canada who have since departed. If you look closely at the sign sitting on the ground you can make aout the words 'Canada'

On the way back to Luang Prabang Somnuek took us to this small village of Nong Hepe. It was a three room school but in need of some major repairs. The Primary 4 and 5 kids without bicycles need to walk 1 1/2 hours each way to go to primary school. Once that is done they can go to secondary school if they can afford it. There are about 10 kids who cannot afford the 85,000 KIP to go (about $10 US). In the primary school there is no latrine at all.

I will be asking for a proposal for a school latrine and for costs to re-parge the outside of the school - at least it is made with concrete block. For the kids that can't afford to go, I will make sure they are able to go next year and if all goes well, Rotary Wheels for Learning will be able to sponsor bicycles for those that cannot afford them. These will cut the travel time down to 30 minutes each way.

Other than some translations that need to be done, I am in a bit of a holding pattern for this years projects. Specifically,
1) Huephen Village needing a water source is in the final stages of approval - we should receive the final stamp any day now so we can start on the project.
2) LadThahae Village needing access steps for the school and underground piping to their latrines for the school is revising their proposal - they just elected a new village chief so there is much for him to learn I guess. The revised proposal is expected in about two weeks. Other than the chiefs stamp, nothing else will be required for the project to start.
3) Done Lom School - I received the document back that needs some translation but most of it is what I gave them. The did get a village and a Department of Education stamp but they did not get a Water and Hygiene Stamp - I think they forgot, plus there is no estimated costing. Once I get some crucial diagrams from the Water and Hygiene department expected today or tomorrow, I will rework their proposal and get the final costing done.
4) Hygienic Toilets - I am waiting for the diagrams from the water and hygiene department as mentioned and will hire an official to map out Had Chanh and Pha Yong Village to determine where to put the latrines. Depending on the condition of the diagrams I may be able to start this within a month.
5) Water Filter - final distribution. This will be done immediately following the completion of the new water source in Huephen Village.
6) School Teachers - I find that one of the schools never did get a second teacher so I won't be paying for that and will save it for one of next year's project. Once I am successful in opening a bank account here I will arrange for payment of the teacher in Pha Yong Village.

So there you have it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Village visits with Lisa and Pauline, Khmu New Year

No rest for the wicked as they say. It has been a really interesting time with Rotarian Lisa McCoy from Canada and Pauline Johns from Australia. While it was a bit difficult to organize and visit villages over the first few days with Christmas and New Years celebrations in the way,I am told that the Lao people celebrate their own New Years around the same time as ours but they also celebrate everyone elses holidays too - an excuse to let loose and party I suppose.

From Left: Mike Yap, Rotarian Lisa McCoy, yours truly and Pauline Johns

I was also in the middle of trying to work on my projects in between visitors but I needn't have worried. Lisa and Pauline are no strangers to hard work. It has been a lot of fun to share stories together about the hiccups and difficulties we experience along the way. A famous saying here is 'same same...but different'. It sure fits with what Lisa and Pauline have gone through in Cambodia as compared with I have gone through here.

I haven't told you much about Lisa and Pauline. Lisa is a Rotarian from Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada. Lisa along with the Gravenhurst Rotary Club International Committee implemented the Rotary Wheels for Learning which provides bicycles for children to get to school in developing countries. Their web site is http://rotarywheelsforlearning.blogspot.com/.

Lisa and Pauline are researching locations in northern Laos as expansion to their program. I suppose it goes without saying that they didn't have to look very far to see the desperate need but more about that later.

Lisa and Pauline are directors for A MineFree World Foundation. I was humbled by the knowledge of Lisa's involvement as education co-ordinator in the Landmine Museum Relief Fund. For those of you who have been to Siem Reap, many of you would have seen Lisa's work at the museum. The funds were raised for a six room school project named the Muskoka school.

I am a little delayed with this posting because my notebook got stolen. Fortunately I have copies of everything because almost everything I do is related to email, either directly or document preparation for emailing. The story goes a little deeper but my overall experience here remains positive and hopeful.

Pauline has now returned to Cambodia for a few days before heading back to Australia but I am still lucky to have Lisa remain with me for a couple more weeks and yes, I do intend to keep her busy.

The days seem to run together but shortly after Christmas I took the ladies to the derelict hospital, another village needing a water source and the infamous high school that really needs our attention. I am worried that some of the support beams are going to collapse. There is one critical junction that will cause quite a collapse if it goes.

Here is another view of the high school.

It should be noted here that the white block part of the structure was intended as storage rooms but has been converted into classrooms due to space restrictions - there are four classrooms of this nature and it looks like a dark dungeon in these rooms. There are three other classrooms that are primarily bamboo located elsewhere on the property and used as temporary classrooms unless it rains.

We returned to Luang Prabang, relaxed and snack-shopped for a couple of days but then prepared for a visit to HuepHan Village that is in the final approval stage for a new water source (should be ready to go within a week) and to Ladthahae Village to review the requirements for a small project at the school property there.

Huephan villagers took us on a one hour hike that we weren't expecting, to show us where their new water source was going to come from. We didn't know this at the time but we were glad we saw it. Quite frankly there wasn't much to see but the villagers were pretty excited about it. Below you will see a tall tree that stands out above the rest of the foliage and at the bsae of the tree are two rivers that intersect and merge. This is where the water pipes will originate from - that is a lot of pipe!

I was feeling guilty about taking Pauline and Lisa on such a long journey because I didn't prepare them for it so we didn't go all the way to the foot of the tree. Also we were told that the UXO (unexploded ordinance) office had been there and determined that this was one of the few areas that escaped the heavy bombing raids so they saw no reason to clear the land and left. The path was considerably narrower so we decided not to venture further.

At LadThaHae School, I investigated the site a little closer and while the water tank is complete, the pipes do not run to the toilets. Instead there is one tap and a sealed pipe at the water tank so the water has to be carried to the small holding tanks beside the toilets in the three latrines.
I also obtained more information about the access steps to the school.

Since then I have requested a revised proposal that is expected within a couple of weeks so we can get started on it. This will not require government approvals because it is a small project and the water tank itself is done.

The next day Pauline was a little under the weather with sore feet so she was unable to join us for the overnight visit to Had Chanh and Pah Yong Villages. Nothing ever goes exactly as planned but for some reason it was the closest I have managed to come to a perfect schedule.

We left early in the morning with Lisa, Myself, Phet (our translator for the trip), two lady friends of Bounmy and his mom who had recently visited the hospital to see about a swollen foot, and a water/hygiene 'specialist' who was hired to review the village requirements and compare notes with me to make sure I understood how they build hygienic toilets.

We made it to Had Chanh without incident and rounded up the chief, several elders and village builders so I could teach them (with the assistance of the 'specialist'). It went surprisingly well. In fact the 'specialist' kept commenting about how great I was doing (translated of course), in response to questions I kept asking him to confirm that I was correct is certain assumptions. Once I noticed that he was copying my chalkboard diagrams into his book, I began to realize that while he had some knowledge, he really didn't know enough about designing hygienic toilets at all to be able to help me prepare a proposal on behalf of the villagers...Not Good! I have the theory correct but when it comes to developing the calculations required to size the sceptic tanks and subsequent sceptic fields and piping, I am at a loss.....just what I need...more research....

Still, it was a success in that whenever I get my information, approval should happen quickly. I have asked the department for the schematics they have on file but suspect they are identical to the ones I received from the Department of Education which means....you guessed it...more work.
Above is a picture of Bounmy's mom (left) and Phet (right), our translator. She was there also to learn about the projects so she can be of much more assistance to me in the future. She will also be able to assist in costing and proposal preparation, hygiene training and a lot more. What a personality! She reminds me of Sammy from Bualai Taste of Thai restaurant in Port Hope - bubbly, happy all the time and a very quick wit!

On the right side, above, are a couple of the workers that helped to build the school and the village chief as we debrief after the meeting at the school.

We had intended to leave right afterwards to hike over to Pha Yong (along with a tractor to take our backpacks and luggage). We had planned to spend the night in Pha Yong village but that wasn't to be. They had actually been waiting for us to finish our meeting so they could bring in the new year with a traditional Bacci in celebration of the Khmu New Year which usually happens in December, although the exact date changes in accordance with the village priorities.

Here is a bit of a treat for you. By the way, the images above and below, including the video was taken by Lisa McCoy.

I tried downloading but gave up after several hours. Here is the link;

This is Part 2 of the video where you will see some of the traditional dancing.

Overall we were all pretty impressed. Apparently there is a school they can attend to teach this kind of traditional dancing. There was lots of drinking at this one..that is for sure.

Rather than load this video that would take me forever, please click this link;

That night we had a second Bacci in celebration of a visiting friend of one of the families - apparently there are many reasons for Bacci in Laos. The following morning there was a Bacci held for two more that we were requested to attend. One was for Oudom, one of the students I am partially sponsoring who had returned to his village for a visit after several months.

Immediately following that we headed by boat across the river and got dropped off at SopCham Village where we caught a tractor ride to Pha Yong Village to meet with their chiefs and elders for discussion about their toilet needs and more training. Another positive experience for sure. I found out later that the villagers had actually sent Bounmy's mom for a second reason. It seems that they were afraid that I would head home after Christmas...for what reason I don't know but the thought never crossed my mind. They know I get along very well with the mom, but I treat all the elders of the villages that way....with total respect. Strange isn't it? I have to admit that it was a little tight around the house. My house is a three bedroom and all bedrooms were fully occupied over the New Years period so there were three of us sharing my bed - talk about squishy!!!!

Here is another image of Pha Yong School.