|Photo: Kate McLennan|
I recently sat down with Kate and she shared some of her experiences and thoughts from the trip and the work being done.
The region in which Global Community (ChildFund Australia’s project in Laos) is working is Nonghet District in the mountainous area of North East Laos on the border with Vietnam. It is a region of approximately a dozen villages, very mountainous and where daily life for the rural people can be extremely dangerous (as we shall see).
Kate found that the people were easy-going, kind and generous. Primarily Buddhist they live in a country that has been invaded many times, with France having been one of the most recent. The influence of this invader is notable in the architecture, the cooking and with French being often spoken. The two major indigenous languages are Lao and Hmong (which is spoken by most of the rural villagers in Nonghet).
The danger faced by villagers comes from an even more recent invader – the US. During the 1960s and 70s at the time of the Vietnam War, the US was also conducting what became known as the “Secret War” in Laos1 More than 2 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos in that war. Dangerous enough then, but even more damaging has been the ongoing danger of unexploded bombs. 30% of those bombs are estimated to be unexploded – UXOs (UneXploded Ordinances) in the parlance.
These bombs still contaminate the region and pose an ever present threat to local populations. Heavy rains (common in the area) dislodge the bombs and carry them into the fields in which the people farm and the children play2
Leading up to the cycle trip members of the group that Kate was part of raised over $80,000 which was used to build toilets and water systems in the villages of Nonghet. Whilst the building of a toilet may be straightforward and cost little (approximately $150), a water system is not so simple. The water tank is just the concrete outcome. That tank requires a supply, often from the mountains. This means surveying a pipeline route and the clearing of land and forest – remembering always that this is through land still heavily contaminated with UXOs.
However, Kate is rightly proud to be part of a project that has brought clean, fresh water to hundreds, thus helping to reduce diarrhoea and child mortality rates. After three years work in the region ChildFund Australia is gaining the trust of the local government making the work much easier.
Asked what difference the trip had made to her, Kate enthusiastically notes that she is now “more connected in my mind that I want to help.” Kate is also keen to “spread the word” not only about Nonghet but also about the work that is being done by ChildFund Australia.
The NGO is a member of ChildFund Alliance, which currently assists more than 16 million children in 51 countries and has over 55,000 donors in Australia. The Global Community programme is a relatively new programme with a growing number of sponsors gifting $35 per month each. Kate has an obvious enthusiasm for this work and an engaging way of presenting the case for the people of Nonghet, Laos and for the work of ChildFund Australia.
Did her experience suggest anything for Australia and the rich world?3
“Yes” she states firmly, “we spend so much on crap. $35 per month is so little, but it can make a huge change.”
Wouldn’t it be good if there were more Kates in the World?
1. Laos was at the centre of a covert war that involved many of the belligerents in the Vietnam war. The war, known as “The Secret War”, ended in 1975 but it was not until 1997 that the US officially acknowledged it’s role in the war.
2. In the decade from 1999 to 2008 there were 2,184 casualties (including 834 deaths) from UXOs in Laos. (Mines Advisory Group website).
3. The median income in Laos is approximately A$36 per month. The median monthly income in Australia is approximately A$4,560 – more than 120 times as much.