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Phonsavan Say (Lao)

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The Success of Phonsavan Say Project

The Success of Phonsavan Say


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Phonsavan Say Project

I am a curious person. During my work periods in Laos, I liked to visit very remote areas to find out how Laotians live. One time, two Vietnamese invited me to visit a village they called “The Other Side of the World.”  They explained that this village was shockingly poor; therefore, it has been named “The Present Hell” or “The Other Side of the World.”  It is Phonsavan Say village that DieuLien has sent some pictures of on the EOCVN website.

The village has about 52 families but only 5 families have houses and enough food everyday. There is no market, no school, no electricity, no telephone or nursing station.  More than 10 families live in old, filthy tents. In these tents, there sometimes live 6 people. Some families have only one piece of material to hang between trees to act as a windbreak or sun protector. Because there is no water, people do not bath, brush their teeth or wash their clothes often. Work is very irregular and spare here. When the families cannot find work, the young women in the families have to prostitute or elders have to beg to get some money for food.  Young prostitutes earn only 50 cents each time. During difficult times, people eat anything they can find:  insects, frogs, toads, lizards, snakes, leaves… Most villagers are H Mong, originally from China. Some are from Vietnam.

A child in front of Phonsavan Say Village

When asked, most people do not know their home countries.  The Laotian government does not know how they got there. But they got there, set up their tents. Day after day, they clear the forest, plant rice.  Unfortunately, they rarely have enough rice because there is not enough rain in the region. So they look for some kind of work or become prostitutes or beggars.

Laos has only two seasons: the dry and rainy seasons. The rainy season is from May to October and the dry season is from November to April.  The dry season is very dry with little rain while in the rainy season, floods are very common.  It is cold all year round, especially from October to February.  Some streams can freeze during this time.  At night, people cannot sleep without heat. The severe cold, lack of proper shelter, clothes and food and no medication result in many health problems for people, especially for children and the elderly. Many of them develop lung diseases at a very young age.

Our volunteer with a lady in front of her hermitage in Phonsavan Say

According to our original plan, we would build 20 houses for people who live in tents and wells for the whole village, and distribute some rice, blankets and clothes. Unfortunately, we have encountered some obstacles:

1 We found out that all the people living in tents do not have a single piece of identification. As a result, they cannot own any property.

2. The area of Phonsavan Say has been reserved and will be developed into a tourist area.

3. The government has asked the people to relocate to another area about 40km from here but they do not want to move. They want to be closer to towns so they can find jobs, beg or get food from the trash.


Buffalo skin



Dry Frog

Main foods of Phonsavan Say villagers

Because of this conflict, we could not build houses for any of these families. Instead, they asked us to fix their existing irrigation system.  After serious consideration, we decided to go ahead with the new project. Although houses are in real need, irrigation is a crucial short and long term plan.  It will transport enough water to the rice fields and one day the whole village will have enough rice. The irrigation system has been in existence a long time. It was unfunctional because one part, about 50m long near the mountainside, had been completely damaged by flood waters.  To fix this part, we need to do it properly.  The pipes and fittings must be made of metal and cement in order to withstand the environmental and water pressures of the rainy seasons. We hope that with this irrigation system the villagers will be completely self-sufficient in the near future. They will not need to beg or sell sex. They can regain their dignity and independence.

Onoruhoi, a mountain hamlet

We have experienced many touching moments while working with the people

in the Laotian villages. Many people could not believe that some strangers would actually come to their villages to give things to them. They had to walk hours through valleys, up and down the mountains to receive a humble gift from us. They were delighted with their parcels of basic life necessities.  They never dare to dream of these simple things! The elders said, “In our lives nobody helps us with anything.”  One of the chiefs told us that many years ago, some officers came to his village and promised to build wells so people could improve their hygiene and living conditions, but they never did anything.

In many villages, there is no school.  If the parents want their children to get some education, they have to send them out to one of a few villages that does have a school. Their children cannot go to school without being boarded. Some nearby schools can be as far as a 4- hour walk from their village. In addition, the foot paths can be very dangerous with high flood waters or wild animals. In the past, two students were eaten by wild animals on their way home from school.  For his village, the chief wishes to have a new school and a water tank. One village we visited has a one- room school.  Within it, two big groups of kids facing in opposite directions receive their instructions.

A new school for Na Khoi village

Regardless of their condition, the children gave us a big smile and a happy welcome.

When all the projects were completed and we were about to leave, the villagers offered us lot of hot pepper and some wild eggs.  They said, “If any of you want to marry a woman here, we will help you.” We replied, “We all have wives and children at home.”  They laughed and told us, “You can have four wives.” It is true that in their tradition men can have four wives.

Donation for Phonsavan Say, Na Khoi, Loong Hang, Na U, and Pua villages

With your help, we have completed more than we anticipated in Phonsavan Say and other villages.  We were very happy even though the project took longer than we planned because of the disruptions caused by the rainy season. When we came to Laos to help Phonsavan Say village, we discovered many other poor villages. We requested EOCVN to share the charity fund with these villages as well.  Along with the charity projects in Phonsavan Say, we also carried out similar projects in the other poor villages by providing blankets, clothes and rice, building or fixing their irrigation systems and building water tanks.

Water system to bring water into Phonsavan Say rice fields

One day, the chief of Na Khoi village came to express his wish of having a school for the children from 30 families. Seeing the urgent need for education, we sent his request to EOCVN and we got funding for this project. A simple school was built and all the children in Na Khoi can now attend school. Still, many other villages have no school.  People need education to build a better life. We hope that in the near future, all the children will be able to attend school.

We would like to send you some pictures. How simple it is to bring joy to other people. We also send you our deep appreciation. We know that you all share with our Laotian friends their joy of a better life.

Spring is announcing itself and we wish you all a joyful spring.

Sincerely yours,

Our team.

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