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.