A sabbatical project tries to build a better life for the poverty-stricken country of Laos.
Jean-Marc Raynard, a Technician in Transgenic Services at Charles River Laboratories’ L’Arbresle site in Lyon, France, recently spent a four-week sabbatical doing humanitarian work in Laos. Jean-Marc’s interest in Laos began about 13 years ago, when he was competing in a one-week road race in the Southeast Asian country.He was moved by the extreme poverty and tried to help by collecting eyeglasses (an effort sponsored by Charles River), raising money for schools and donating a water purifier. More recently, Jean-Marc embarked on a more ambitious mission, to create a sustainable educational project for underprivileged children. Below is first-person, week-by-week accounting of this inspiring sabbatical project.
Children of Laos
In order to structure our humanitarian project, and in collaboration with the OFF ROAD LAOS ADVENTURES local agency, we created an association called ‘CHILDREN OF LAOS” and an Internet site www.enfantsdulaos.com.
The aim of this association is to facilitate access to education in the different ethnic groups of the country, thus giving their children a better future.
Since the creation of CHILDREN OF LAOS, several “Foundation stone ceremonies” have already taken place, thus gaining recognition by the local authorities and by the current and future sponsors. (We wish to thank “OFF ROAD LAOS ADVENTURES” and “Crédit Mutuel” for their wish to provide long-term support.)
We have carefully studied the various forms that our aid could take in order for it to be the most efficient possible.
We have met with experts who know Laos well, along with its local mentality and its specificities. Their advice on how to organize our assistance has been invaluable.
Our web site www.enfantsdulaos.com sets out the main aims of our program … And now let’s discover the project…..
A Foundation Stone Ceremony
We were looking for a school with which we could establish a long-term partnership, over several years. In order for the project to be maintained, this would inevitably mean involving the school director and the chief of the village.
The “Off Road Laos Adventures” Agency had already made a first selection and we decided to help the school in Vieng Hine, a village located 130 km north of Luang Prabang.
Vieng Hine is an isolated village, 1000 meters above sea level, where two tribes, the Hmong and the Khamus, live together. Even though the two tribes share the same village school, there are clearly two distinct “neighborhoods”.
As the website explains, the aim of our project is to create and equip a computer room in the school. The project will need funding over several years, hence the importance of sponsors such as “Crédit Mutuel” and the “Off Road Laos Adventures” Agency.
In Laos all “serious” projects are validated by the local authorities and must display their identification board, which is much the equivalent of our “foundation stone ceremony”.
So this week we funded and organized the construction of this board at the entrance of the school. The beginning of a wonderful project.
Appealing to the Generosity of Trekkers
Along with the construction of the computer room, we decided to collaborate with groups from the Agency during their stays in these villages.
Indeed, many groups come here for a trek of several days, spending nights in villagers’ homes, living among the local population. We contact these groups in advance, organizing their distribution of donations in the villages.
The trekkers who wish to participate bring toys, clothes, school materials, etc. Fund-raising campaigns are organized in order to improve the daily life of the children.
The “Off Road Laos Adventures” Agency takes care of the logistics necessary for sending these donations to the chosen village.
Late in the afternoon, the trekkers arrive in the village, visit the school, meet the villagers and the donations are distributed. To thank the donors, the children of the school, in traditional dress, sing and perform dances.
A very moving experience of sharing.
Bringing Things Into Focus
During our various visits to the villages, we noticed that many Laotians had sight problems. We therefore decided that it would be worthwhile setting up a collection and distribution of glasses. We had already organized a similar scheme in 2016 and it had been a great success.
We worked with a few groups from the Agency before they arrived in Laos.Many of these people participated enthusiastically and collected a large number of glasses, both in their workplace and at home.
We collected more than 200 pairs of glasses for children and adults, shipped them to Laos and then distributed them during a biking tour in southern Laos, in an area called the “Bolavens plateau”.
During each distribution session, we learned a little more about the needs of the Laos people, and were thus able to become more efficient by improving our ways of working.
Although the size of the program is challenging, we are constantly encouraged by the smiles and kindness of the Laotian people.