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.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Last Trek of the 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.
I cannot believe how fast the time flies. I am two blog entries behind and only 9 days to go before I head back to Canada. I feel very sad at times knowing that I have to go home and leave so many wonderful people behind and with projects that are in various stages of completion.

A few weeks ago I ran into a lady at the Bangkok Airport while waiting for my flight back to Luang Prabang, as we were watching CNN to catch up on news that we had missed. We started a conversation and have become very good friends.

Xenia is an amazing lady who's heart is similar to mine and wants to do everything she can. I took her to some villages along with her best friend who is 82 and I am quite sure they had an experience of their lives. I knew it would be difficult to climb up the banks of the Nam Ou to get into the villages but they were really good about it.

I had to hold Xenia back at times from commitment and sponsorship towards various projects until she hade a chance to see everything I wanted to show her. Quite frankly I wish there was someone here that would do that for me! I am going broke a lot faster than I would have imagined but it is difficult when there is so much need.

Xenia became quite taken by a young fellow finishing his last year of high school. I had been sponsoring Oudom but was quite thrilled that Xenia wanted to take over the sponsorship. I have been already sponsoring two other university students and it was becoming difficult to manage a third sponsorship. So Oudom is now covered until the end of May or June when he graduates from High School. It will be up to him to present a formal request for sponsorship for university, to Xenia. I wish him luck for sure.

Here are a few highlites.
Above: Xenia and I enjoying a slowboat trip up the Nam Ou towards Hat Kham Village

Left: Candy does wonders when it comes to kids doesn't it?
Right: While painted artwork is not common among the villagers, this one was particulary interesting. You can see that they take pride in their few possessions.

Above: Unfortunately the lighting is not very good, but Xenia and Oudom, the student enjoy a photoshoot together after a bacci celebration. Note the white strings on their wrists.

Left: from the left, Myself, Oudom's father, Xenia, Oudoms grandmother, Oudoms mother and Xenia's friend Pam.
Right: A Distillery for Lao Lao. Every village has them!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Huephen Village Water Source Update

I recently visited Small Huephen Village to see how our project was coming along, in order to supply water to the 35 families. Due to the lack of water there, the village has dropped in size over recent months from 42 families.

After hiking for about an hour, I checked out the dam they were building. During the dry season, this river becomes more of a stream, but with this new addition, water can build up overnight to supply enough water to the village during the day. We also followed the various stages of the trenching in order to place the new water pipe. I am told that the water project whould be complete before I return to Canada but in my view it isn't likely. They still have to build a water tank in the village and 5 tap heads.

Here are a few pictures.
Dam: Somnuek showing off the handiwork of the villagers.
Right: Construction Site of the dam.
Local Villager posing for the picture in front of the trench. The trench, when completed will be over 3km long. It was about half completed when I saw it.
It is dry season everwhere in Laos and water is at a premium. Even at my house here in Laos, the owners installed a new water tank and a pump to ensure that I have a steady source of water. I had heard from my neighbor that the water pressure is not strong enough to make it up to the second floor.
Many of the student dormatories have dried up. The only option is to bathe in the Nam Khan (river) which is degrading for many plus the water is certainly not clean. For drinking water and cooking though, water is trucked in and delivered at a cost of 4000 (50 cents) kip per bottle, the size of a water cooler bottle back at home. The students I sponsor go through 3 or 4 of these a week. This is an amazing price at home, nevertheless it is difficult for many students to manage the $2 per week.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Visit from Associated Press

I was contacted by Jacquelyn Martin, a photojournalist from Associated Press through email. She had read my blog and wanted to visit Laos for her vacation. I was thrilled. We managed to spend a couple of days together and I know she got some great pictures as we travelled through some of the mountain villages. We were accompanied by the Director of Tourism and Madame Bountom, Director of Public Schools in the District.

I can hardly believe it but this is the only picture of Jacquelyn that I have. I had given my camera to Khamdee, my translator to take some pictures while I was working, but this is all I have. Jacquelyn, please accept my apologies! If you happen to have any pictures that you would like to send my way, I would be very happy to accept!!!
Jacqueline has also kindly offered to send me a print or two for a silent auction that I am planning this summer, in hopes of raising money for some worthy projects here in Laos
The homestay in Ban Phon was pretty amazing. After dinner and a bottle of Lao Lao, Jacquelyn retired for the evening and I thought I was too as I made my way to my homestay location. That wasn't to be though. There were about 8-10 people who followed me up and another bottle of Lao Lao, plus stories and laughter.

Here are a couple of pictures.

I should mention that while the men tend to sit in the foreground, the women are perfectly welcome to join in but they tend to stay in the background as shown below.

Khamdee was my translator for this leg of the journey. He is also a university student but goes to school at 4pm, then starts an overnight shift at a hotel to help for his studies.

I have just over 4 weeks to go before I leave for Canada.....and things are moving quite quickly. I can't believe I have been here since the middle of November! Anyway, I now have Government approval for all of the remaing projects and am working very quickly to make sure that all of the projects are well underway before I leave. These include Done Lom School which will begin construction on March 14th, the hygienic toilet project for Pha Yong Village which started last week, the toilet project for Had Chanh Village school where construction will start immediately following the Pha Yong toilet project, and there are a couple of other smaller projects already underway.