Category Archives: LAOS

A big hero in a small corner of the world

Orphanage update February 2013.

 Greetings from beautiful Luang Prabang.

 The LPB orphanage is still the wonderous place that many of you will remember and with almost 600 children, we are now at full capacity. There have been several projects come to fruition in the last 6 months that have improved conditions considerably at the orphanage.

This year will be a very busy year and although Luang Prabang will always be my heartfelt priority, I have now started support at Numbuk and Suan Luang orphanage/ethnic schools.

We now provide support for over 1,800 children in orphanages and villages around Luang Prabang.

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My staff giving out new mattresses and blankets

Last month, I opened the orphanage’s new art school. We built this quite quickly and the goal was to provide a room where all children can go after school to paint and draw. We have seats for 30 children and we supply the paper, paint and pencils. The room has been a big hit and has provided a much needed creative outlet for the children.

After some delays, our library has been completed with bookcases, chairs and tables. It was delayed as I needed to relocate the computer room, which is now complete. The school now has a separate Library and computer room and provides great learning opportunities for the children.

Last week I replaced the old, broken swings and we now have a set of new swings for the girls and a new set for the boys.

I have started a new nutritional program for the 150 youngest children at the orphanage. I now supply milk, 2 times per week for each of these children  As before, we provide eggs, meat and fruit on an ongoing basis and I believe we now have a very balanced diet suitable for the children to grow up healthily.


Working with the kids

I have installed 3 more water filter systems around the orphanage and we now have four in total. Each child now has access to clean drinking water and we hope this starts to lower the incidence of stomach problems.

We had 2 doctors visit in November and saw almost 400 children and we are now collating a substantial medical data base. The general health of the children is good but we saw many female health issues and lots of ear infections. I am addressing female health through education, and girls now know they can be treated easily for typical female infections. I plan to start a monthly ear clinic in order to address the high incidence of ear infections.

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Youngest class at the orphanage

I will maintain all these programs in the future as well as the dental and hygiene programs. I hope that if funding is available we can make the same positive changes at Suan Luang and Numbuk.

Suan Luang and Numbuk are orphanage/ethnic  schools that are home to both orphans and very poor children.

In the poorest areas of Laos, even children with parents seldom have enough food to live on. Most are from very poor farming areas and live in very desperate conditions. Suan Luang and Numbuk provide a home and school for many of these children.

Suan Luang has 630 children from 9 to 19 years old and is just 30 minutes from Luang Prabang. Numbuk has over 400 children in the same age range and is situated 2.5 hours from Luang Prabang.

I am presently building a 36 metre dormitory at Numbuk. Over the next two years, the government wants to take in another 180 children. The new dormitory will allow for 90 more children to arrive in September this year and I plan to build 2 more dormitories in the next year to accommodate the extra 90 children due to arrive in September 2014. There are also 2 dormitories at Suan Luang that are close to collapse and they will need to be replaced when funding is available.

Conditions at both places are very poor . The quality of food is appalling with only 5 kg of meat (virtually all fat) to share between all the students and the vegetables supplied to both schools are dry and the cheapest available. Rice is given with each meal but is also the lowest quality and is seldom cooked properly.

Previously there was no clean drinking water at either school so  I have installed a series of water filters and tanks at both places so that the children can now drink clean water. I have also started a food program for 2 meals per week at Numbuk and Suan Luang and we supply pork or fish, and eggs  as well as fresh vegetables and herbs. I will provide a further two meals per week starting from April this year.  This is a small step to help these children but we have to be diligent when initiating programs so that we can ensure that a suitable relationship evolves with the directors and the students before  expanding these programs.

Most clothing donations are now going to Numbuk and Suan Luang as most children just have filthy, old clothes. I am expecting a container of clothes from Canada that has been organized by my friend and we hope this will solve the clothing issue in the short term.

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New kids in front of the new school

Scholarships. Presently we sponsor about 70 orphanage students to university. This is a wonderful program as it offers each student their only chance to escape poverty. Without a scholarship, most students are forced to return to their villages, unemployed and live in very difficult conditions.

This year we have 45 graduates from the LPB orphanage and we hope to offer each a scholarship to university. The cost of a scholarship is $US650 for a year so if you know anyone who would be interested to support a student, please get them to contact me.

At Suan Luang, we have 130 children graduating in June. All will have no option but to return to their poor villages and try to find work. I want to offer the brightest students a working scholarship where I support them in LPB long enough for them to find work so that they can work their way through college. The working scholarship will cost $350 for each student and will pay for accommodation, 2 months salary and their university fees. This year I have a generous sponsor from Montpelier who has agreed to match every scholarship that I can get so if I can find 40 people to support a scholarship, then Montpelier will also sponsor 40 scholarships, for example. We have a chance to change many students lives for the better through this program.

My contact for this program is

Thank you all for your wonderful support to date. My projects are growing quickly and we are making a huge difference in the lives of many children and this can only happen with the support of very caring people.

Kind regards.



Which one are you?

Are you a human being, or a human doing?

Just hangin'. Muang Ngoi district, Laos

Just hangin’. Muang Ngoi district, Laos

Is your life an endless series of planning and to-do lists?

What percentage of your time is spent just BEING?

Based on the number of talk shows and self-help books on the subject, it appears that we are taking that first step toward breaking the addiction – admitting we have a problem.  Only eleven more steps to go! If you are in the Passport to Adventure recovery program, the next step is – GO TO LAOS! (Recommended dosage is 3 weeks. WARNING: Staying longer may lead to an uncomfortable sense of well being, and diminished desire compete in the rat race)


Minding little sister and the herd. Laos

If Bhutan can market their “Gross National Happiness”, then Laos needs to brand its laid-backness. It’s too bad that so many visitors rush through the country – most spend a few days in the UNESCO world heritage city of Luang Prabang, then fly to neighboring Vietnam, Thailand or Cambodia. They are missing a real opportunity to understand that there IS a different way to live this life. If there was ever a place to “chillax”, Laos is it.


Proud Grandpa, Luang Prabang, Laos.

This was our third trip to Laos – we were there 12 years ago, and 5 years ago. On each trip we spent 3 weeks, and covered different areas of the country, always returning to Luang Prabang. So, “how has it changed?”, you ask. Well, there are more tourists, more hotels and guesthouses, cars and motorcycles have replaced some of the bicycles, everyone has a cell phone, but aside from that, I did not detect any major changes the Lao people and their attitudes.

If you are planning to visit Southeast Asia, do not make the mistake of assuming the cultures are the same, or even similar. They are not. The main thing that makes the Lao people different is their complete lack of materialism. I think we are so consumed by consumerism, and our capitalist nirvana notions, that it’s really, really tough for most Westerners to fathom this non-attachment to earning money. Working hard, and getting bigger, better stuff is admired in our culture, but I saw no indication that the Lao have embraced this philosophy. We had more than one smile and tell us frankly, and even proudly, “we are lazy”.

It doesn’t look like laziness to me, it appears they just would rather enjoy life with little, than work hard for more. Their lifestyle seems to make a clear statement: we value time over money, and laughter over perfection. Lao culture is strongly influenced by Buddhist teachings, with acceptance of circumstances, detachment from outcomes, and the belief that ‘all is as it should be’ shaping attitudes. Western directness, planning, and problem-solving are truly foreign concepts.

After a couple weeks of travel in Cambodia, (which comes right after Laos on the “chillax” list) I was slowing down – lingering at cafés, not planning our next move, wandering aimlessly, taking naps, reading novels (instead of guidebooks) in the middle of the day – all stuff that should be part of every day, right!?

Well in Laos, they are. Neighbors hang out on the front step chatting, shop keepers don’t hassle you, children don’t have tantrums, people giggle a lot, they don’t hurry, they nap in hammocks or on the office floor, they celebrate often, they play music loudly, and they prepare food anywhere and everywhere all the time.


Making yummy coconut crisps on the street.

Your meals will rarely be delivered quickly – the prospect of getting a tip does not seem to motivate servers. In my opinion, they like tips as much as anyone would, but they see it as more of a gift, as in, those that have should share with those that have less, a common tribal ethic. They do not get the idea of trying to earn a tip – if they give good service, and you are financially able to tip, great, but they will never be solicitous, rushed or stressed out about it, nor angry if you do not leave one. They enjoy the opportunity to chat with you more than they covet thy money.

After two weeks in Cambodia and three in Laos, I had completely shed any urgent need to do anything. I found that the “eh, whatever, whenever” shoulder-shrug was becoming quite natural for me. Now that I have experienced true laid-backness, I’m really going to work hard on keeping it. (pun intended) And whenever I feel stress creeping in, I’ll just shrug my shoulders, remember the wonderful people of Laos, and recite my new mantra “baw pen nyang” – no problem!

Watch this fascinating TED talk: “What Makes Us Happy?”!


Travel in the year 1982 B.C.

Before Computers (& Cell Phones)

Cycling Europe, 1982

Cycling Europe, 1982

In ancient times, (the 1980’s) travel meant being disconnected from everything you knew. You had no choice but to “Be Here Now”. Keeping track of your kids meant parents had to settle for the occasional postcard from their 20-something backpackers, or in our case, cyclists. When the only way for travelers to get word from home, was to retrieve snail mail at American Express offices, or make a very expensive phone call.

I have a vivid memory of waiting in the Paris post office for my name to be called. That’s how Eurailers phoned home in 1982. You went to the post office, wrote your name, and the number you wanted to call, on a scrap of paper, waited in line, handed it over to an operator, then sat and waited some more, wondering if your mom, dad, or boyfriend would be home to accept the collect call charges. If your timing was good, you’d hear announced: “Julie Conover, cabine trios”. In the small phone booth, a wooden cabin, you’d pick up the receiver and hopefully hear the correct voice. Then, anxious over the per-minute charges ticking away, you’d hurriedly give an account of your recent adventures, ask for money to be wired from your savings account to the Western Union office, or find out that your boyfriend wasn’t necessarily waiting for you anymore. (Oh well, c’est la vie, he was a world away, and you had more exciting experiences ahead)

Sangria-soaked in Pamplona Spain, Running of the Bulls

Sangria-soaked in Pamplona Spain, Running of the Bulls

Getting mail was a real crap shoot, but amazingly worked pretty well. You had to tell your friends and family approximately when you would be in a certain city, then they had to mail their letter in plenty of time, and hope that it would end up in the right pile, at the right AmEx office, where you’d show up to cash a travelers check. It was always so exciting when you gave them your name and there was actually something for you. I can still picture the scruffy-looking, weary travelers sitting on the AmEx steps, the curb, a park bench; smiling or crying, over a letter from home.

GPS? Ah, negative. We rode bicycles for 6 months using a AAA road map showing the whole of Europe, and a dissected “Lets Go” guide – we would tear out the parts we had no use for, carrying only the currently relevant sections. When we needed directions, we asked locals. Getting lost was part of the fun. Ya think? Actually, no, getting lost on bikes is typically not fun.

Powerless = Powerfull! Munag Ngoi, Laos

Powerless = Powerfull! Muang Ngoi, Laos

Fast forward 30 years… I miss that kind of travel. Being so disconnected from home, friends, family, our native tongue, we were much more connected to our surroundings. I guess that is why I gravitate towards off-the-beaten-path places, I am subconsciously trying to create that feeling again. I actually hate having a TV a hotel room, and see clearly how the ubiquitous wifi of Southeast Asia, is more of a curse than a blessing. My favorite place in Laos this trip was a small village, only accessible by boat, with no electricity. I hung out for hours at candle lit restaurants chatting with travelers, star gazed, walked to neighboring villages, read, and, downloaded pictures to my laptop.