Please find together for charity’s Quarterly Letters and Travel Reports below.
Travel Report Luang Prabang November 2011
Thursday 10 November 2011
Thanks to Tiger Airways we had the possibility to seize the day. Our flight to Bangkok left at 7.10 am. We brought 100 kg of clothes, footballs, jigsaws, toothbrushes, skipping ropes, Frisbees, etc for the children.
In Bangkok we had a five-hour transit, thanks again to Tiger. We took the opportunity to have a long together for charity meeting. Preparing for the visit to the orphanage and to meet our contact person, Andrew Brown. We also took the opportunity to thoroughly go through the finances, the web site, future events, quarterly reports and our special Christmas drive.
Finally we got on the plane to Luang Prabang. The view from the airplane was amazing – rolling green mountains, the winding Mekong River and golden temples. Finally and safely on the ground we arrived at a small and charming airport.
Our first impression of Luang Prabang was a peaceful and surprisingly clean town. It is definitely an oasis in the middle of all the green mountains.
Later in the evening we finally met Andrew Brown, an enthusiastic Australian guy, who is the driving sprit behind the orphanage. We interviewed him for two hours, learning as much as possible about the situation at the orphanage.
Friday 11 November 2011
We woke up to a chilly morning. All the clothes we had brought with us went on. Perhaps it was only 20 degrees – for us, a cold temperature. We sat outside and ate breakfast and prepared ourselves for the day. We organized all the clothes and toys that we had so generously been donated. Boy-clothes were out in one pile and girl-clothes into another pile. We had a total of 186 t-shirts, 49 pairs of trousers, 28 dresses / skirts and a variety of toys and books with us.
Andrew escorted us out to the orphanage. With four giant bags, the man who became our tuk-tuk driver picked us up. We were all nervous and tense. What we would encounter? How bad would it be? How would the children feel?
The orphanage is a state-run orphanage and the children are 6 to 19 years old. The state cannot afford to fund all the things that the children are in need of. They pay for the school, some of the buildings and ensure that children receive rice and cabbage soup each weekday. Anything else, they cannot afford to finance. The funds Andrew collects and self-help finances everything else. For example he buys eggs, meat, bread, bananas, fruits, mattresses, mosquito nets and renovates old buildings and builds new ones.
The orphanage is located in a large area. It consists of several dormitories, school buildings, dining room, kitchen, computer room and toilet buildings. In the middle is a large soccer field and basketball court. It is a very peaceful place. The children are calm and quiet. We were, for example, in the dining room where 300 children were served food. The sound level was pleasant. No loud voices or screams. For those of us with children of their own, it felt like the room could consist of up to 50 children. You could definitely hear what you were thinking. The children were served a large portion of rice, several shaped into a ball, and cabbage and meat soup. Before Andrew’s time they had no meat, only a cabbage soup. Two chefs, who together with some of the older children do all of the cooking during the week, prepare food. On weekends, only rice is served. They get some money (equivalent to 30 cents USD) to buy additional food for the weekend. All around small fires are lit, where they cook their food. The older children tend to help the younger.
We were all amazed by how good life is at the orphanage. Coming to this orphanage is for many children their only way out of starvation. This came as a big surprise to us, believing that an orphanage is not usually a place where children actually want to live.
After getting a proper tour of the orphanage by Andrew, we distributed clothing and toys given to us by friends and loved ones in Singapore. The children grouped themselves in an exemplary straight line and waited quietly for their turn. It was a fantastic and thought provoking experience. The children were grateful for whatever they got, and there were no thoughts of injustice. The children were simply happy. We were anxious about equal distribution, however Andrew explained that it was not a problem, as in Buddhism you are grateful for what you get.
It was partly with eased hearts that we left the orphanage. It was great to see that their life is pretty good. They take on great responsibility, despite their young age. Life here is better for many children than in their home villages. Tomorrow awaits a visit to the village, Ban Phou Sarng, 2 km outside of Luang Prabang.
After today’s orphanage visit, we spent the afternoon and evening, with some sightseeing. We watched the sunset from the That Chomsi temple atop Phousi hill. It was a magnificent view over the Mekong River, albeit a little crowded with other tourists in the way. Then we took a walk in the quiet and peaceful town. Luang Prabang, with its two-story houses is a very charming city. A city that is not similar to any other place we have been. Between the houses are a variety of Buddhist temples. Monks walk barefoot around the city and can almost be seen on every street corner. The mood and tempo is calm and pleasant. No one raises his or her voice. According to the guidebook you can shock a Laotian if you talk too loud. Nobody goes fast. It had a great impact on us, after just a couple of hours we were also calm. Or at least calmer than usual..
Saturday 12 November 2011
Early start. It was not even light outside. We had decided to see “the wandering monk”, the walk the Buddhist monks do in the town in the morning, to collect food for the day. The city’s residents go out en masse to give the monks rice and bananas. The diet did not look to have any variation, but the monks seemed pleased. We borrowed bikes at the hotel and rode up. It was cosy. A woman who sold food for the monks to us stopped us and soon we sat there and fed the monks. It was a nice and harmonious experience. Then it was back to our hotel and breakfast. It is lovely with Laos that it is an old French colony. French breakfast is amazing.
And so it was time to go out to the village which Noy comes from, Ban Phou Sarng. Noy is an eight-year-old girl that Andrew came in contact with during spring 2011. Noy has two younger siblings, a sister of five years, Souk and a younger brother of 1.5 years. Their father died a long time ago and their mother had fled the field two months ago when Andrew met her. Noy took care of their siblings and did her best to put together food for all of them. The village is extremely poor. It hangs on a litter wall. During the rainy season the lower part of the village is full of mud. Diseases spread quickly. The clay is now cured, so the ground is rock hard.
We met La, Andrew’s assistant, as she was teaching the village children English. She does this every Saturday. After teaching, she gives all the children an apple each. For most children it is their only fruit per week. The village is as I say poor, and most live on farms. Rice and various cabbage dishes are the most common forms of food. Vinegar-soaked bamboo is one of the more common dishes.
Andrew has sponsored a woman with a “paper factory”. We went there and were surprised when this plant was found to be outside and the woman also lived in the factory. She sat on a mat under the roof and tied her notebooks. The paper she made in small boxes outside. We realized we had a lot of western frames of reference, given what we thought we knew about how a factory appears.
Noy is on a visit in the village. It is two months of school holiday and all students at the orphanage have been asked to go home. If they can. Noy and her sister chose to go home. When we climb around in the village we find Noy sneaking around. She wants to talk to La and says that she and her siblings have not eaten for several days. Her mother has disappeared again, and her aunt and grandmother who were supposed to take care of the siblings have chosen to swap the children’s food for beer. Noy’s eyes seem as if they have been turned off. Just black and empty. You cannot interpret anything in them. Neither sorrow n
or pain. This little girl has already suffered so much misery, and has taken so much responsibility. It is senseless. We go to the nearest shop, a small shed located in the village and buy ten kilograms of rice and eggs and noodles to Noy and her siblings. With La’s help, we make a deal that Noy can pick up a little every day and that the grandmother and aunt will not be able to exchange the food for beer. But who knows if it will work. We can only hope it does not happen.
When we later talk to Andrew about Noy and her fate, he explains that if she had not moved to the orphanage, she would probably, at an age of twelve or thirteen years be pregnant with her first child. The probability that she would reach 30 years is minimal. Mainly because they give birth at home and those who help delivering the babies don’t have any education. Now, thanks to the orphanage, she will not get pregnant until 19 and the probability that she ages past 30 years is much greater than if she stayed in the village.
In the afternoon we went back to the orphanage and it was great fun. The children were not as reserved as they were the previous day. They were more accessible. Several of them wore the clothes that we have given them the day before. It was a bit odd to see the “Swedish Cowboy” sliding around and a little guy in a “fit t-shirt”. A barbie doll, that the day before had tousled hair, was now carefully combed and fine. Imagine how excited they were with their new things.
On today’s agenda was popcorn popping. Most of the children had not eaten popcorn in the past. We had brought popcorn from Singapore and bought pots and oil in Luang Prabang. The children helped us to light two fires, and then it was just to get started. During the next hour we popped a lot of popcorn. It was popular and appreciated and there was much laughter and giggling around the fire. They thought it was hilarious when we lifted the lid and a lot of popcorn flew out. After a while, several of the teachers and the older children took over. They were clearly better than us at dealing with cooking over an open fire.
We hung out with teachers and watched when they were practicing with some of the children a dance for a coming national school competition. They practiced patiently. After some time we got tired and Kristina managed to pick up a guy to play football with. This resulted in a football game, together for charity against all the boys. After some time they began to switch over to our team. Perhaps they felt that they wanted to help the ladies. It was great fun, and to everyone’s delight no bones were broken. I must admit I was worried that this would happen.
It was sad, to say goodbye. We have really come to like this place. The atmosphere is pleasant and quiet. The spirit of fellowship is nice. That we will go back is certain. The only question is when?