Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Building a Toilet for a Kindergarten School!

Imagine being five years old and having to go to the bathroom--but there is no bathroom, so you have to go out and find a private spot. There' s nowhere to wash your hands, so you get sick. And when the rains comes, you get parasites through your feet from stepping in other children's feces.

Building toilets isn't sexy or exciting--but they save and change lives. That's why we are building another toilet this year for a small kindergarten school in a remote village in Khong District (we had to travel hours by motorbike then take a boat just to get there).

As usual we are working in partnership with the village. This means that we are buying the supplies but they are providing the labour for free--the villagers will build the toilet. This creates a feeling of teamwork and contribution for everyone, which is integral to what we do.

Once we see how this project goes (depending on some managerial factors) we may also build a concrete floor for the kindergarten. They currently have a dirt floor that turns into muck in the monsoon season. Imagine trying to learn while sitting with your feet ankle-deep in muck. Or with dust everywhere in the dry season.

We are grateful to Jin and Joo Lee for helping to raise money for this project (as they did our last project--the Kindergarten Lunch Program). You guys are angels. Thanks a million!

Faye Jackson Volunteers at our Muong Khong Kindergarten Project

Early this year we had an awesome volunteer teacher--Faye Jackson from England--who stayed at the kindergarten school in Muong Khong for two weeks, acting as an observer for our organization and teaching the children some songs/dances etc. She had a blast. Here's the story of her experience...

Report by Faye Jackson

Arriving at the school on the first day was awkward to say the least--no one spoke English and my Lao was limited to "hello," "thank you very much" and "it's hot." I said that last one a lot as it was extremely hot! But once I sat in front of the children with their big brown eyes looking at me, hanging off my every movement, the awkwardness soon vanished!

The children are amazing and so happy to play and be silly (something I had no problem with!). The teachers have also been fantastic and, despite the language barrier, made me feel welcome with their warm smiles and patience; they even managed to teach me some Laos!

It gave me such a thrill to walk up to the gate of the school each morning and be greeted by the cry of "Sabaidee" and lots of happy faces coming to meet me! The children would walk me up to the building of the school, sometimes 2-3 in each hand and a couple dangling off each hip or leg--it was great to feel so welcome!
I managed to teach them how to count from 1-20 and recite their ABCs, which, by the Tuesday of the second week, I heard a couple of the kiddies singing as they played outside (apart from a couple of mis-pronunciations--they got it!). It was brilliant! I also taught them a couple of English songs, such as "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and "The Hockey Cockey." They loved these songs and got very excited when they knew I was about to sing them!

All in all, it was an amazing experience being part of their lives, even if it was just for two weeks. It's something I know will stay in my heart forever. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity by Shawn and Thanou at Jai Dee Children's Fund to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Another Successful Project Done!

We're home from Laos and happy to report that the new kitchen we built was a huge success! The Kindergarten Lunch Program was officially launched, so now the children will be receiving at least one nutritious meal each day. This is important in a country where 40% of children are malnourished and many don't eat breakfast before heading out to school. The program will also encourage parents to send their children to school (many keep them home to help on the farm).

We want to begin by personally thanking some important people.

Our Generous Donors
Jin and Joo Lee Family Foundation
Aurora/Naperville Rotary Club
Jong-Ho and Duk-ja Choi

Here's the new kitchen (the smaller building in the background) from a distance. The high ceiling helps with circulation and to cool it down in the hot season. The floor is raised two feet so the water doesn't come in during the rainy season. Inside it has running water and electricity (for the stove--so they don't have to use charcoal, which is hard on the lungs). It also has all the equipment necessary to prepare food for 60 children.

Here's the Kindergarten Food Program in action!

Here's us with Jin and Joo Lee--two of our donors and also two of the most inspiring people we've ever met!

And here we are, standing in front of the kitchen. The Lao text behind us actually names all the donors on this project and the full cost in kip. Check out Thanou's rock-star hair! He got a haircut soon after that.

These adorable faces are the reason we do all we do. They are singing us a "thank you" song for building the kitchen and starting the lunch program.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010 Project: Kitchen

Hi all,

We're in Laos right now at a tiny Internet cafe on Khong island.

The Kitchen Project

The kitchen we're building for the local kindergarten school is coming along great. We'll have an official opening ceremony next week when our major donors arrive.

This project couldn't have happened without our generous donors Jin and Joo Lee! They were also supported by their local rotary club, of which they are members. They'll be flying here next week to help us get supplies for the kichen and for the opening ceremony. We can't wait to meet them.

Here's the kitchen as it looks right now--almost finished!

Here's the fence we built two years ago (along with upgrades to the school) all standing strong.

Ban Dua Kindergarten

Yesterday we visited the kindergarten school we built last year for children on Ban Dua island--a small island with no electricity or running water. This was the first time we were able to see it completed and it looks awesome--definitely solid enough to withstand the monsoon rains that eventually destroyed the last school (which was made of wood). The local villagers were very grateful and are using the leftover materials from the old school to fix up the primary school next door.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Update 2009

Okay, I've got to play some catch up here--we've been busy!

Ban Dua Kindergarten Finished
So we finished the second room on the kindergarten in Ban Dua. We were fortunate to be able to do it mostly with brick (the first room had a brick base wall with replaceable rattan upper walls), so it should be housing children for a good many years to come. The posts are all concrete so it will stay standing through whatever monsoon weather this summer throws at them. The children (and teachers!) are thrilled to have such a strong and well-built school to learn in.

Ban Dua Receives Visitors
Also, we came into contact with a kind and adventurous retired couple from Illinois, Jin and Joo Lee, who decided to visit the Ban Dua project in Laos. They brought books and crayons with them to give to the children, who were thrilled to have visitors from abroad.

Muong Khong Anuban to Get a Kitchen Building!
They also visited our first kindergarten project, Muang Khong Anuban, and learned that they needed a kitchen built for a number of reasons that would greatly help the students. Here' s the great news: they are on the board of a foundation that has decided to work with Jai Dee to do this project! It should be completed sometime this January.

Teachers' Professional Development
We are excited to announce that kindergarten teachers in the Muong Khong District are now meeting regularly and sharing ideas on ways to make their schools better places to learn. The meetings are organized by Nyom (whom we have supported through various training programs to become a leader for teachers in the area). Previous to this, many of the teachers had never even met, nor had they seen what other schools were doing. This helps them to share best practices, and makes a real impact for very little money (just the cost of quarterly meetings).

Good Things Happening!
So, as you can see, good things are happening here with Jai Dee. We continue to be so grateful for all your support--the children of Laos, especially, thank you.

We are currently planning to go to Laos this coming Dec/Jan 2009/10 to oversee this project, follow up on our other previous projects and to look into future ones.

Hope you're all having a fabulous summer!

All the best,
Shawn and Thanou

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Finishing the Kindergarten in Ban Dua

It's hard to believe a year has gone by! We have been continuing to work on our projects in Laos. This year the kindergarten at Ban Dua will be completed (it still needs the cement posts and the second room completed). We will also continuing helping teachers to network and share resources through regular meetings. Stay tuned for updates and photos (likely not until February).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ban Dua's Kindergarten Gets Walls!

Ban Dua is a small village on an island called Don Beng on a stretch of Mekong River in Southern Laos known as See Phan Done (Four Thousand Islands). In the dry season the river recedes, revealing thousands of islets. In the monsoon, the river covers many of them. The island's only claim to fame is that it still has remnants of the old French trail, which is now a dirt path through this one-path town. Tourists rarely go there. There are no guest houses, and no clean water or electricity. Most of the people who live there come from families that have lived on the island for generations. They grow their own rice and vegetables and catch their own fish. Unfortunately fish have been on the decline for the past 30 years. This situation can only deteriorate with overfishing and the new dam projects being built along the river for hydroelectricity.

Despite the island being small and isolated, a number of the residents are fairly educated (By Laos standards) and believe in the importance of education for their children. The kindergarten school at Ban Dua was first built by an American in the 1960s. In the following 40 years the termites ate most of the wood, creating extensive structural damage. The cement base was still sound however, and some of the wood was salvageable once trimmed of the damaged bits (the wood in Laos is so hard it's like iron--very challenging to hammer nails into).

All of the villagers pitched in to help with putting up the walls. They also prepared lunch (they even made a special vegetarian dish just for Thanou and I). They continued with their previous trend of feeding us fresh coconuts from morning till night (which meant they had to shimmy up the tall trees to get them--and once incurred the wrath of angry red ants to do so). Ah how I love fresh coconuts! They are one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and I'm convinced they are part of the reason why I was never sick during my stay in Laos--a first!) We did try to help with the actual building, but mostly just got in the way.

There were some interesting challenges with putting up the structure (it was all done by human-power with a few long pieces of bamboo) but it was still completed in record time (4 days, though that doesn't include all the running around we did to get the materials at the best prices). Due to limited time and resources, we only did one room of the two-room building. However, this gives them a good solid room with walls and a new roof to protect them through the monsoon, and we'll finish the other side next year. It still needs cement posts, and then the base brickwork for the second room, and a few more pieces of tin for other side of the roof. That said, it looks great as is and is quite functional for now. We also bought the school some basic supplies, such as floormats, blankets for the children when it gets cold, and the usual pencil crayons and notebooks.

We are very happy with the outcome, and especially with all the help we received from the community itself. Bravo to Ban Dua--the small village with a big heart!

People from the community raising the post structure during the kindergarten school room renovation.

Ban Dua's volunteer builders in front of what will be the newly renovated kindergarten room.

The newly renovated kindergarten room in Ban Dua.

A before shot of the inside of the kindergarten. An after shot of the inside of the newly renovated kindergarten room with Shawn and Ban Dua's kindergarten children.

Kindergarten children in front of their newly renovated school room.