It is now winter in Luang Prabang and the last month has been uncharacteristically cold. This may last until the end of February before we move into warmer weather.
I have spent the last 2 weeks distributing blankets and jackets to all the children in our project. We received a container from Vietnam, kindly donated by an American sponsor. After 3 months of wasted energy trying to get a tax exemption for the border crossing, It became apparent that the only way that I could receive the clothes and blankets was to pay the import tax. This was somewhat ironic, paying tax for clothes that we give out for free, but such is the bureaucracy in third world countries. The children, oblivious to these difficulties, were particularly grateful as the poorest seldom have enough clothes or blankets to keep warm during winter.
Our orphanage project has remained robust. Many long-term sponsors often comment on how healthy the children now look in comparison to 7 or 8 years ago. This is reflective of our continuing food program, with eggs and pork for 6 meals per week, Breakfast for 5 days per week and fruit and milk twice per week.
Food programs are typically expensive and we currently spend about $4000 per months to provide adequate food for the children at the orphanage.
Our Australian doctors visited for a week in November. Each child was seen and the overall health of the children is quite strong now. As usual, we had many dental follow-ups however these were mainly fillings so the dental health has improved over the last 5 years when we were performing over 50 extractions and over 100 fillings each year. We still maintain our toothbrush, toothpaste and soap programs at all 3 schools.
Currently, the education department is building a new school block at the orphanage which will enable all the schooling to be in one area and all the accommodation to be in a separate area. This is a government project in conjunction with the Vietnamese government and will be finished in about 9 months.
We are continuing our long-term support for the Suan Luang and Numbuk schools providing 4 healthy meals per week. We now have agricultural projects at both schools which helps provide vegetables for the children, outside of our food program. Although the government provides food for these 2 schools, the food is of such poor quality that it is sometimes not eaten by the students there. We work continuously with the education department to address these issues.
The scholarship program allows students from all 3 schools to gain entry into tertiary education. Through follow-ups, I have ascertained that over 85% of graduates in our program are placed into work within 12 months of graduating which is a wonderful result. We now have approximately 200 students on scholarships, studying towards their degree.
We have started support in a new village in the Numbuk district, Ban Bong Dai, approximately 3 hours from Luang Prabang. The village has almost 200 children under 13 years of age. This will bring the number of villages under our support to 12 in total and the number of children in our projects will be just over 4000. Expanding into new villages is a logistical challenge but the rewards are often great. Many remote villages have very limited access to medical support and the children's’ diets are of very low standard. We give eggs and milk every 2 weeks to all the children in our projects, and while we cannot donate huge quantities of food, the eggs and milk often provide the only nourishment in a diet that often consists of low quantities of rice and vegetable.
In each of our villages, apart from the eggs and milk, we provide medical support for all children, school supplies, clothing supplies and water projects where appropriate.
Our medical support continues to grow with parents of children in distress often calling us for help. Many rural families do not know that there is a children’s hospital in Luang Prabang and most do not have the funds and time to travel to Luang Prabang. Our project will cover the travel costs and accommodation for a parent and a child and long-term medications. Fortunately, the children’s hospital provides quality health care for free however our budget for medical support continues to rise each year and is now at about $18000 per year.
A good example of medical intervention in remote areas is the girl (pictured below)) with a cleft palate deformity. She is from our Numtooum villages, about 3 hours from LPB. We asked the children’s hospital if they knew of visiting specialists, and we arranged for her to come to LPB in November where a Korean doctor performed surgery. She will need a further operation in 3 years but already her life is vastly improved.
Her family would never have known about this treatment if she was not in our village projects.
For the future, I plan to continue to expand our village projects to cover as many children as possible in remote villages. We are still working towards opening a refuge for children of 0-6 years old as we often find children in our villages and through social media that have very little support and are at high risk. This will be a big step forward in helping the neediest children in Lao.
My projects are now entering our 10th year and I wish to thank the kind and generous people who have helped along the way. Even small donations have helped to change the lives of many children for the better.
Despite the difficulties of working in a third world country, I often reflect on how lucky I have been to be able to work with my sponsors in order to improve the lives of these children.
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