Thursday, January 6, 2011

More Village Visits in Laos!

We've taken a few days to rest and recuperate from a few minor ailments here at Steve's house in Luang Prabang - so a good time to try and catch up on the numerous village trips Steve has taken us on.

It was amazing to see the two schools Adopt a Village in Laos has built in Had Chan and Pha Yong villages. Click here to see Steve Rutledge's blog: Adopt a Village in Laos

Adopt a Village in Laos has provided water filters for every village home and has plans underway to install hygienic toilets throughout both villages. Here are three photos from Pha Yong:

The trip from Luang Prabang to Had Chan and Pha Yong villages is one of the most scenic I have ever experienced.  We left Luang Prabang by van early in the morning to arrive at the Nong Khiaw boat docks 2 hours later. The 40-minute boat ride up the river Ou was filled with breathtaking scenes and areas which took us through small rapids.

Below is a photo of the Nong Khiaw boat docks:

We spent the first night in the village of Had Chan and on the second morning we took the boat to Soupkhan village from which we hopped on a tractor taxi for the hour-long, bumpy trip through the hills to Pha Yong. Below is a taste of some of the astounding scenery along the way.

To give you an idea of the area we covered, below is a map of Luang Prabang province showing the Road 13 route from Luang Prabang to Pak Mong and Road 1 to the docks at Nong Khiaw. The area in the square indicates the village areas along the Ou river (but you won't find many small villages like Had Chan or Pha Yong named on any map!)

We spent Khmu New Year in the Khmu village of Had Chan. Here I had my first Bacci Ceremony experience. This ceremony is held for many occasions - births, deaths, special village guests, etc. - when we arrived in Had Chan, they were just about to start. This Bacci ceremony was being held outside under a makeshift awning. Food was laid out on a low, round table with guests and village elders sitting on mats around the table.  As part of the ceremony, white cotten bracelets are tied around each other's wrists with an accompanying Buddhist blessing. Food, music, dance and Lao-Lao follow. Here are photos of Steve and I at the Bacci Ceremony.

That was the pleasure part of our villages escapades - now on to the projects!

Steve has a wonderful rapport with villagers everywhere. His easygoing manner wins over everyone in the villages and they know from past experience that he is there to make a positive improvement in the quality of their lives and their village.

He may venture into a village with a water or school-building project, but it never ends there - he truly does 'adopt' a village, and revisits it to monitor and evaluate existing projects and then implements the next step toward improvement. These two villages had schools built by Adopt a Village in Laos. Steve was now back to show these villages the benefits of hygienic toilets and to start the process of implementing a project that would provide both Had Chan and Pha Yong villages with such toilets.

I'm watching Steve's every move  - it will be wonderful to bring this knowledge of hygienic toilet systems back to the rural areas of Cambodia!

Had Chan Village - Steve Discusses Hygienic Toilets with Villagers

I had a great time in Had Chan village. We slept comfortably at Oudom's family home in the village. Everywhere we went we were offered big meals which included village delicacies such as water buffalo meat, dried seaweed, sticky rice, chicken and all the local Lao fare. It is customary for people to eat from communal bowls using their hands.

A few days ago, Pauline Johns, Steve and I went with our Lao friend Somnuek to visit another village area - a 'New Village'. 

Ban Nong Buekhon - name of the new village - is comprised of four relocated villages. The people were moved for developmental reasons. This new area will give these people better future access to education and transportation. 330 families had been relocated to this area with an anticipated total of 375 families once all have been relocated.

Throughout the 48 hectares of this new village, families were busy rebuilding their homes and starting anew alongside the Mekong river. There are many future needs for this village which include a secondary school, clean water sources and bicycles for these children and the children in the nearby village 5km away.

Much to my surprise our convoy to this New Village was accompanied by the Governor, Deputy Governor, Minister of Agriculture and other officials from Luang Prabang Province. Our truck was filled with 80 mosquito nets and 100 blankets which were presented to the villagers in a special ceremony. The Governor presented the four of us with framed certificates thanking us for our kind donation.

Pauline, Lisa, Governor of Luang Prabang Province, Owner of Bel Air Resort, Steve

All these trips to villages and seeing the need for schools has got me really inspired to get a small A Mine Free World Foundation supported 'Muskoka School' project going in one of the Adopt a Village in Laos targeted villages. Once we all get over our colds, we'll be heading back to more villages in the northern part of the province.

On the way back from Ban Nong Buekhon we made a final stop at the village of Nong Hepe where we came along some students walking home from secondary school. Each day these students spend 3 hours walking to and from school. As in Cambodia, many families can't afford the cost of a bicycle for their children, let alone the secondary school enrolment cost of over $10/year. As in most developing countries, bicycles provide this vital link to transportation for education.

Nong Hepe Village Boys who walk 5km Each Way to Attend School

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