Saturday, 28 February 2015

BANGKOK Feb 24-Mar 1, 2015

This is Blog # 3. If you have not seen the earlier ones of Laos and Cambodia, do have a look at these also. There is a U tube of a Loas village where I was teaching. If you want to get a sense of the children, this is some silly fun to look at.

Let me know if you cannot access this link. You may need to copy and paste it. 

BANGKOK: A group of 9 of us arrived in Bangkok on Feb 24 to explore the city for a few days. We had planned lots of activities to keep us busy.

COOKING SCHOOL: Our first day was spent at the Blue Elephant Cooking School, a world famous school and restaurant. We cooked 5 different Asian dishes after first watching the chef create the masterpieces. We learned lots of secrets and were introduced to interesting new herbs and spices. Before this, we were taken by the chef to the market so we would first see these items in their purest form.

Here is our excellent chef. We had lunch afterwards, eating our own creations. It was so much fun!

That evening we went to Siam Niramit, a superb Thai stage show on the largest stage in the world (in Guinness Book of World Records). The stage had boats sailing in water at times and then would become land again, where elephants would roam. It was spectacular. Before the show, we fed elephants and visited a simulated Thai village. 

The next day, we went to the Floating Market 100 km out of Bangkok. On the way, we stopped at the Train Market. In the Train Market, all the stalls are set up all over the train tracks for quite a long distance. The train comes by 4 times a day at which time a warning is issued..."Stand back 1 metre from the tracks" and everyone clears away all their produce and takes down all the awnings that are up. It all happens in a 5 minute period, the entire market moves away several feet. It is all quite amazing. 
You can see the tracks here but even more astonishing is how quickly they take down all the awnings that cover the entire market all along the tracks. 

That afternoon, off we went to the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok. This was an American who worked for OSS...Office of Strategic Services, during the second World War. This was the predecessor of the CIA. He loved Thailand. The hand-weaving of silk, a long-neglected cottage industry, captured his attention and he devoted himself to reviving the craft. He was highly gifted as a designer and textile colorist and contributed substantially to the growth of this industry. His home (six teak buildings, representing the best in Thai architecture...most of the houses were at least two centuries old and brought to this site) is a spectacular museum which he left to his nephew (having no children of his own) and his nephew donated it all to Thailand. 

On March 26, 1967, Jim disappeared while on a visit to Malaysia. Not a single valid clue has turned up in the ensuing years as to what on earth ever happened to him. What a legacy he left for Thailand. 

The next day, we went to the local bridge club located at the lovely Polo Club. This was an interesting experience. They do not use bidding boxes as they write down their bids instead. A bit tough to get used to. They do have bridge mates (scoring pads). 

Alex and I play bridge all over the world at assorted local bridge clubs. We find that, for the most part, no-one goes out of their way to be particularly welcoming. This is disappointing. I want you to do something for me....when you play at your local club and see a strange face, please go up to that person and ask them if it is their first time there. Welcome them and make them feel at home. When you arrive at a table, always be sure to introduce yourself and chat for a moment to anyone who looks unfamiliar. A smile and goodwill go a very long way. The Thai people are extremely gracious so maybe it is the competitive nature of bridge that  made them not appear to be as welcoming. The club is beautiful. 

We visited the Royal Palace on Friday. This is a breathtaking masterpiece. This used to be the home of the Royal family but now is a museum. There are dozens of buildings and spectacular statues. Note the Bonsai in the photo. There is gold everywhere and temples forever but it really is worth seeing, in spite of the temperature. 

We travelled there by long boat and saw wonderful sights along the way. 

Bangkok is a most interesting city. Most of all, we loved having massages daily. Approximately $12.00 Can for a hour. We have been spoiled. This is the way I was born to live.

Tomorrow, we fly off to Myanmar for a 2 week visit and a cruise on the Irawaddy River. 

Stay tuned! Please forward to a friend as I am only sending this to a very few. 

All the very best,

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Here we are in Cambodia, a country with such a tragic history, in our lifetime, also home to the wonderful temples of Siem Reap, such an Angkor Wat. These seem to be what the country is best known for. 

As we dig deeper below the surface,, we find so much more. We learn of the communist insurgents, known as the Khmer Rouge, who overthrew the military dictator, Lon Nol, shortly after the end of the Vietnam war. Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge during this dreadful time in Cambodia history. They killed 2-3 million Cambodians, 1/4 of the nation's population in 3 1/2 years of being in power. 80% of all teachers were killed, 95% of the doctors, also engineers, scientists and countless others who were educated. Many women and children were murdered. The country was essentially returned to year zero. 

The mission of this tyrannical group was to reconstruct Cambodia into agrarian socialism. The population was to be forced to work as labourers in one huge federation of collective farms. All political and civil rights were abolished. Religion was banned. All leading monks were killed. Many temples were destroyed. Cities were evacuated. People were shot for knowing a foreign language or even for wearing glasses. 

In 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and eventually overthrew the Khmer Rouge. The story of the genocide was really not known in many parts of the world. In US, the memory of the Vietnam war was fresh in their memories, they really wanted nothing more to do with Southeast Asia. Those who escaped from the Khmer Rouge fled to Thailand refugee camps. The stories of these camps is almost impossible to believe. Atrocities abounded, starvation and disease was prevalent. 

To compound these disasters, the Khmer Rouge placed landmines throughout the country during this time. It is estimated that there are 40,000 amputees in Cambodia, the highest rate in the world. 20% of all villages to this day are still contaminated by landmines. This impacts access to agricultural land. 

The country struggles to get past all this. In the villages, many have no electricity. They cook on fires outside their home. Some have solar energy which may light their homes for a few hours each evening. many live off the land, working hard in rice paddies, eating fish, rice and vegetables that they grow. 

Our projects here in Cambodia are called Banyan Learning Tree Schools. We work to sustain our schools here. At this time, we have 520 children in our schools. We encourage the children to wear the uniforms that they wear to the government schools (that they attend for the other half of the day). If they do not wear the uniform, this is a clue to us that perhaps they are not attending the government school. We then pursue that and try to make that happen. Also, if they cannot afford a uniform, we provide one for them. 

Our volunteers on the ground are 100% volunteers, paying their own airfare, accommodation and meals at all times so that all money raised goes to the cause. Lisa McCoy hails from Gravenhurst, ON and Pauline Johns hails from Australia. None of our projects could happen without the care and custody of these two incredible ladies who work tirelessly to help those less fortunate. Pauline is on the far right and Lisa is next to her. Leslie Cadeau is my travel companion on the far left. 

We also have a weaving centre where we employ women so that they can have a livelihood and we market and sell their handiwork so that soon this centre will become self-sufficient. 

Our wonderful volunteers also work with other projects surrounding landmine victims, providing bicycles for children in remote areas. This is funded by other groups. Our projects also help to educate landmine victims so that they re-train for other occupations and become self-sufficient, e.g. they become chicken farmers or barbers in their villages.

Our next project is to try to open a family health clinic in a remote village area. There is much research still to be done on this and it will not happen overnight but our goals are becoming more focused now. We plan to work with pregnant mothers and newborn infants 0-2 years old, in an attempt to decrease infant mortality. 

Here I am teaching dental hygiene to a class. We take lots of printouts to the schools to help them with their vocabulary. We take toothbrushes and toothpaste for all, pens and pencils, arithmetic problems for them to solve and then we play games with them. So much fun and we feel it is important for them to hear English spoken by westerners. 

Patti Lee and I are holding our Cambodia fundraiser on Friday May 1st this year at 5 Glen Park Ave. (Habonim Synagogue) From 9.30-11.30 am, John Rayner will teach a hands-on bridge class. John is a first-rate teacher and player. He owns a bridge club in Mississauga and you will so nejoy learning from him. After that, lunch will be served and then Patti will show pictures of Cambodia and provide an update. A bridge game will follow all and extra master points will be awarded. 

To reserve a space at this event, please send your donation (with a cheque made out to
A MINE FREE WORLD (note change in name because this is the organization that will now be issuing our receipts from now on) to 

Barbara Seagram
220 Lawrence Ave East,
Toronto ON M4N 1T2

If you are unable to attend, we would still be thrilled to receive your donation and we promise that every penny will go to the cause. There are no administration fees. 

Please be sure to include your name, tel no, postal address (for the tax receipt) and email address. 

Thank you for caring and listening. Patti and I are so grateful for your support. 

Sincere best wishes,

Barbara Seagram

Thursday, 12 February 2015

LAOS: This is the start of a 10 week journey to Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Burkina Faso in West Africa. My friend Leslie and I arrived here a week ago. Alex is at home minding the farm for 10 weeks. One ticket: two vacations, he points out, my kind and tolerant husband! We are having  some amazing experiences. We are in Luang Prabang, a charming town in the north of Laos. 

We love the markets, the people, the sights and the sounds. All so colourful and fascinating. 

On Day 3, we headed out to the remote villages, a long way away on bad roads. We overnighted in Nong Khiaw, a very rugged, simple place. We climbed and explored caves and visited two villages to install many water filters. 

All families are given a lesson in hygiene and instructed on how to care for their water filter and why it is so necessary. ( the water is extremely dirty and is 100% purified by these remarkable filters) Steve does a remarkable job of all of this. Many hands go up, saying that they have had gastro-intestinal problems over the last few months. We know that these issues will all go away with the advent of the filters. Steve Rutledge, our wonderful on the ground volunteer, who lives in Port Hope half the year, gets donations of sports uniforms for all those on school teams and the kids look so smart in these. Steve is the founder of Adopt a Village in Laos and works tirelessly for this cause. 

Leslie and I taught a couple of English and basic arithmetic classes. We take inflatable globes to all the schools and point out Canada and USA and that the world really is round. The children respond well and are excited about the loot bags that we hand out everywhere with rulers, erasers, pens, pencils, toothbrushes and toothpaste that we buy in Laos to help the locals. They are the most beautiful children. 

Laos is a rugged land, much of which is undeveloped. It is estimated that it will still take MANY years to remove the UXO (unexploded ordnance i.e. bombs) dropped on the country during the secret war between 1964 and 1973. More than 270 million bombs were dropped by USA during that time in an attempt to eradicate communism in SE Asia. Up to 30% (80 million) failed to explode. 

The picture above shows the large cluster bombs that were dropped that often failed to explode. The contents of the cluster bomb can be seen in the picture above that. These are called bombies and are filled with razor sharp pieces of shrapnel that kill on detonation or at the very least wound and maim. They are often coloured and look like pieces of fruit to innocent children. 

There is a direct correlation between the extreme poverty here and the presence of UXO. Many communities are still UXO contaminated. It means that the land cannot be made arable. Most of the population are farmers and subsistence is a challenge. Children go out and play with or try to gather the scrap metal to sell and the results are fatal. Imagine that families cannot even build a fire on land that has not been cleared as the heat may well ignite a hidden "bombie" in the soil below. Much education by amputees and victims goes on in the schools. 

Steve has now built 7 schools and added on to several others. He brings water to many villages and sponsors a number of students for University and College here. Patti and I have watched some of them grow over the past 3 years and it is gratifying. Leslie and I brought in a young man from a village 10 hours away (he came by motorcycle all that way!) to be our guide for 8 days. Patti and I had met him 3 years ago. Khamkeo was a student at University then and now teaches in his very remote village. He is teaching us Lao and we are teaching him English and other skills. 

Patti Lee and I (with Enid Roitman's help) are holding a fundraiser on Tuesday June 9th at 11 am at Habonim @ 5 Glen Park Ave. We hope to raise money for water filters which now cost $95.00 Can or $78.00 USD. Costs have gone up because of the fall of the Canadian dollar. Transportation of filters through the very rugged mountains adds to the cost. 175 km took us 6 hours, just to give you some idea. All proceeds will go to Adopt a Village in Laos. 

Off to Cambodia in two days (14 Feb) to visit our projects there. 

Stay well and stay tuned. Thanks for caring,

Barbara Seagram