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

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