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Tieng Viet

Loong Hang Clinic



charity work in Lao


In the opening ceremony of Loong Hang school in 2006, some people in the hamlets about 20-30 kilometers away from Loong Hang also came to join. Before leaving, they told us that their hamlets earnestly desired to be given a school and a water supply system like those of Loong Hang hamlet, because their hamlets were also extremely poor but had never been helped by anyone. People of Loong Hang hamlet dream of a health clinic to station health professional sent from the district to cure them.
During the construction of the school, we came to understand the aspirations of the villagers, and felt the urge to forward their earnest request to Ms. Dieu Lien.
There were only 8 of us (Vietnamese workers), therefore when necessary, we had to hire some Laotians to do such things as digging, leveling the ground, cutting timber, and roofing, in order to have things done faster. I did not know why those Laotian workers hammered the nails into the toile planks very softly. They were strong, but they stroke the nails softly as if they were exhausted. I kept asking them to hit the nails hard, but they still did very softly.
When I could no longer be patient, I asked why they did not strike hard, why they kept striking so lightly. Then, Thong Xa Vat, the head of Na hamlet, softly replied: “we are afraid of ghosts”.







I thought I misheard him, and asked:
- Why afraid of ghosts?
Thong Xa Vat explained:
- If we strike the nails hard on the tole, ghosts will come!
The Vietnamese workers burst into big laughters! The Laotian explained: “no problem if we strike softly, but if we strike hard, ghosts in the forest will hear the noise and come. And when they come, they will cause many mishaps. They will cause illness to villagers, and people will have to buy oxen, cows, pigs and chicken to offer the ghosts.”
No wonder whenever I hit the nails, all the Laotians there would stop working and look at me with such embarrassment and fear!
-Are there many ghosts? I asked
-So many ghosts! Thong Xa Vat said
-Have you ever seen a ghost?
-Not yet! He replied with a child-like naive smile.
Later, we knew that Loong Hang is not the name of a hamlet, but of an area; Loong Hang can be regarded as a big village. Loong Hang school is built in Na Buoc hamlet, which is adjacent to Hoi Phun and Na hamlets. Children from these 3 hamlets will go to Loong Hang school. Hamlets in Laos are administrative units, just like wards or communes in Vietnam. However a hamlet’s population is much smaller and sparser than in Vietnam.
Further down in Loong Hang are Vang Mu, Khon Than, Xuc Xam, Lang Chong, Phon Kham, and Pac Hang hamlets. They are about 5-7 kilometers away from each other.
One day, when passing by the house of the head of Hoi Phun hamlet, I saw him making something like a chicken cage. I inquired what he was doing, he said:
-Making the house for the ghosts
-You make the house for the ghosts, and where will you place it?
-Bring to the forest for them. At times we have to bring sticky rice and meat for them. Otherwise they will cause illness to the people.
The whole area has 9 hamlets, each of which has at least 30 houses and at most 52 houses. Totally there are around over 2,000 people. And yet the whole area does not have any health clinic at all. When getting ill, they have to invite the worshiping master to make offerings to the ghosts.
In case of serious illness and the worshiping master fails to help, the villagers have to bring the patient on a stretcher over 30 kilometers plus, through forests and streams, to the hospital of Phu Cut district. The villagers said, if they had a “Hong mo noi” (hong mo = hospital, noi= small in Laotian), they would be cured by nurses when getting ill, and they would not have to invite the worshiping master to make offerings to ghosts. In case the patient is too seriously ill and the nurses could not help, they would bring a horse out and ride in the doctor from the district hospital to save the patient.
Offering the ghosts (or “lieng phi” in Laotian language) is the custom and also the last resort of ill villagers. When I inquire about this, villagers explained that, when a person gets illness, minor or major alike, it is believed that the person must have done something wrong that displeases the ghost! The ghost therefore gets angry and makes them ill. If the illness is minor, actually the patient will recover after a while, but it is still believed that they get over thanks to their remorse and thus, the ghost forgives them. If their illness is serious and if all possible ways that have been tried do not work, they believe that the last hope may be to ask a worshiping master to make offerings to ghosts. Villagers said, whether the patient will get over or not, it is very costly to invite a worshiping master. For minor illnesses, the offerings must be pigs and chicken; for major illnesses, the offerings must be oxen and cows. After the offerings, if the patient does not get better, it means that the ghost is not yet pleased. If a patient does not get over after using some herbs or roots, he or she has to think of inviting the worshiping master. The offerings requested by the master are such a big burden, which is sometimes unaffordable to a family that is living only on wild plants and roots, self-sufficient in a place without trade or markets. The family sometimes has to borrow to buy a cow to offer ghosts, as instructed by the worshiping master. In “lieng phi”, villagers come together to drive the ghost away, and pray for the recovery of the patient. After that, the villagers eat; and the worshiping master himself can bring home a cow’s upper leg and 3 ribs, besides being full with food! Sometimes, the family even pays the worshiping master about 200,000-300,000 kip (around 20-30 US dollars). The master receives all those things and payment, whether the patient recovers or not. If the illness is not better, the master will rule as “this ghost does not eat beef; if you want a complete recovery, you have to offer ox meat”. A cow costs 3-5 million kips (about 300-500 US dollars). If the offerings continue without effect, the master will rule “this ghost is very superior; it refuses to eat beef, nor ox meat! So stop feeding it!” Then, the patient is totally up to his/her fate to decide.
Some families, only after trying the offering without success, brought the patient to hospital. Some people do think that it could have been better to use the money spent on oxen and cows for the offerings – “lieng phi” - for hospitalizing the patient instead. However, “lieng phi” has become a deep-rooted custom to the villagers, therefore it is hard to change their mindset. Moreover, since the district hospital is so far away and traveling is so difficult, they do not think of hospitalization at all.
In a rainy night, when we were sitting around a fire, a woman came in with a very young baby on her back and a torch in her hand. She was only 22 years old. She got married since 15, and by then she had got 4 children. She said she did not want to have any more baby, because life was so hard and that they could barely have enough food; but since “the husband was too good at sleeping with wife”, she kept having babies. She had asked an acquaintance to buy her anti-pregnancy medicines; and the acquaintance bought a bottle of medicine containing Progestin, an injection of which would work for 3 months.  She complaint that even using condoms did not work - her husband, seeing there was a redundant part at the tip of the condom, cut it away, and she was still pregnant!!!

If there is a “Hong mo noi”, the villagers plan to ask for medicines from the Government, so that their nurses can cure them. The whole Loong Hang has 6 nurses trained in Vientiane, but they do not have any health clinic to work in when returning to the area. Pregnant women must have their birth-delivery at home, because there is no health clinic at all. If possible, they will invite a nurse in, but if not, they will manage on their own. The woman would give birth to the baby at home, and then would use the vegetable-cutting knife to cut the umbilical cord! After the delivery, she may wash herself down in the stream immediately without any restriction, unlike in Vietnam.
It is already hard for a normal person to walk to the district over 30 kilometers through forests, over slopes and bypasses, and many streams; let alone for people to carry a patient on a stretcher. The motorbike I rode from Vietnam could only used by me to travel to Loong Hang; no other Vietnamese worker would dare to ride through that route. There are vertical slopes that I had to ride from afar to gain enough momentum to pass it, and sometimes I could only succeed after 6 attempts. I can manage to make my way to the area in dry season, but it is totally impossible to ride in rainy season, when rains come down and streams swell up. The villagers then live in total isolation from the outside world. Once, the stream water was so high that the water came to the exhaust pipe and the engine could not start, I had to use a plastic pipe and connected with the exhaust to ride through the stream.
After Loong Hang School was finished, 6 out of 8 Vietnamese workers stayed back in Xieng Khoang province to build houses for Laotians, only 2 planned to return to Vietnam. Knowing this, at times when some villager went downtown, people ask him/her to come to the Vietnamese workers and ask them to forward their wish to Ms. Dieu Lien and Ms. Diep Yen Binh for a “Hong mo noi” and a “Hong hien” (school).
We are now sending to Ms. Dieu Lien and Ms. Diep Yen Binh the earnest wish of these nice and miserable people.
The people here live in absolute poverty. In any hamlet, there are so many children without clothes, and dirty bodies like wild people! Adults also do not have enough clothes. When crossing a stream,





they put off their clothes and tie them around their head, hide their sex organs with their hands and wade to the other bank; then they get dressed again. When they wash themselves in streams, even in the presence of both males and females, they will come behind bushes and put off their clothes, then they will hide which parts of their body that need to be hidden, and come down to the stream. After the wash, they come back to the bush to get redressed.
We once hired a driver to transport construction material from the town to the hamlet. The truck had to cross over 10 streams, thus it could only run in dry seasons, and certainly gave up in rainy ones. But the driver did not make any haste at all. He drove leisurely, even stopped by a stream, got undressed and came down for a wash; and he only departed after swimming indulgingly. No matter how hard we pushed, they kept their own pace. They promised to come and load cement at 8 am, but they still had not turned up in the afternoon, and sometimes, they turned up after 2 days! There is no use to get angry with Laotian people; no matter how we react – with scolding, shouting or blaming – they simply keep silent, and smile, and never argue back! Being with them for a long time, we become patient people!
They do not have different clothes to change, and those that have only one set of clothes do not dare to wash. Looking at the rags on adults and the bare children, even saints and gods would not be able to hold back their tears. I have met La, 45 years old only, but his back is hunched and his hair is dirty and messy as if he were in his seventies. La refuses to wash himself for 15 years now! Kham Thi, whom we call “Father”, thinking that he must be in his seventies since almost all his teeth have gone, turns out to be only 48!
In this area, people do not know of many things to do except chopping trees and digging soil to make fields for rice and corn. Their staple food is vegetable, moss in streams, and bamboo shoots in the forest. They even eat such insects as ants, termites, crickets, cicadas, cockroaches, mice, and snails. Sometimes, they come across a cricket and immediately eat it raw. Their ketch-up is made from the waste of cows or oxen. When they kill a cow or an ox, they take the sei-solid waste in the animal’s intestine, and then mix it with water into a liquid which will be boiled and filtered through a patch of cloth. The remaining grayish green liquid will be the ketch-up to go with their sticky rice or other daily food! If there is no sei-solid waste from cows or oxen, they use fish intestines instead. When Vietnamese workers first came here and ate this kind of food, all had diarrhea.
The villagers’ favourite food is a kind of broth made with moss and a few finger-sized fishes caught in streams, or ant eggs and wild vegetable. Their food is so simple. But they cannot do without chilies; all types of food have so many chilies. Even 2-3 year old children eat such hot food with adults; the chili is so hot that the children tear out, but they keep eating with no complaint at all!
The Laotian people are very hospitable. They usually invited us over to drink alcohol. They invited very solicitously, and everybody thought that the meal must be very gorgeous, because the owner had been preparing continuously from late morning, and only until complete darkness was the food served. But when the tray was brought up, there were only one dish – that was sliced green papaya mixed with cow-waste ketch-up and chili! Even patients are still fed them with sticky rice and chili salt; there is no other food. They do not know how to cook porridge, and feel surprised to see ill Vietnamese people eat porridge. They say that on average, every Laotian, including children, eats about 10 kilograms of dry chili a year.
Seeing us build schools and health clinics, the villagers expressed much affection to us. They usually visited us in groups and talked to the Vietnamese workers. Whenever they come, they always gave us some small gifts, for instance, some chilies, eggs; and sometimes, 2 small, round eggplants! Once, they came with one pack of instant noodle when we were eating; they poured so much boiling water in the noodle. Each of them just had a small sip, and the rest was given to the Vietnamese workers.
People here almost know nothing else to do except working in the fields. They are almost totally unfamiliar to the civilized world. Seeing anything strange, they all stop their present work and watch. Vietnamese workers are working and chatting at the same time, but the Laotians would stop working to hear whenever they want to listen to something. If they hear the sound of a flying plane, all Laotians would stop working, stand still with their face up to the sky until the sound is no longer heard.
When we mixed the mortar, the villagers gathered in big crowd to watch. They have never mixed mortar! We hired them to do the job, and all of them stood around to watch for a long time. Then, one of them came, tapped me on the shoulder and said:
-We do not know how to mix the mortar, please do it for us!
I told these stories to my sister. She smiled “Poor them! I must build them a school”. This time, besides the health clinic funded by BD Foundation, two schools will be built, each funded by Ms. Nguyen Thi Thu and my sister. A water supply system is given by Le Ba.
When the rainy season comes, there is enough water for planting. But there are countless mosquitoes and terrestrial leeches! Terrestrial leeches are similar to leeches. When hungry, it is as small as a toothpick, sometimes just as a needle. But a terrestrial leech can become as long as a chopstick and as big as a finger when it sucks blood to its maximum. Once, a Laotian washed his face in a stream and afterwards, his nose bled for the whole week; he at time felt sudden pain in his nostril. When he came to hospital, the doctor used an endoscopic equipment and brought out a terrestrial leech as big as a chopstick, 10 centimeter long! Life of terrestrial leeches counts in years. And they can have rebirths. A mature terrestrial leech can suck as many as 50 milliliters of blood per day. It creeps into an animal’s nostril, its anterior sucker sticks closely to the mucous membrane, and it lives on the blood and quickly becomes bigger. The terrestrial leech produces an anti-clotting enzyme that causes uncontrollable bleeding. More dangerously, it can creep from a person’s nostril down to his/her throat, choking the respiratory chord and consequently, the host person cannot breath.
My friend Thin once was caught wet when he went to the forest to check the wood. Returning home, when he got off his wet blouse, there was a thrilling sight to all people present there: a whole area on his back was black with sticking full terrestrial leeches! His armpits and other parts were also stuck with slimy full terrestrial leeches! We had to use a knife to get rid of those leeches.
Terrestrial leeches live mainly in forest streams and springs. In rainy season, they multiply and become intensively active. They remain motionless on tree branches and on the ground. When there are sounds of people’s steps, they erect to define the direction of the sounds. When the person comes closer, they flip themselves up slightly and stick to the person’s body and suck his/her blood unnoticeably.
Forest trekkers usually tie up their trousers and blouse sleeves, and wear tight socks. Still, the terrestrial leech can creep beneath all the clothes to suck their blood. During the time we built a school for Khon Than hamlet, we saw how a dog suffered from a terrestrial leech sucking blood from inside its nostril. It ran home with a terribly bleeding nose! Thao Xi made it lie on its back and used his wife’s eyebrow-trimming tweezers to take out a long terrestrial leech almost as big as a chopstick.
Upon such sight, in the evening, we workers usually checked each other’s nostrils with a torch lamp to see whether any terrestrial leech was dwelling inside!
Another pain in the neck in rainy seasons is mosquitoes. In remote hamlets like Loong Hang, usually there is no toilet at all. The villagers urinate and defecate in the forest. In such a passage, people encounter mosquitoes as crowded as bee. Most thrilling are anopheles. Many people get so serious malaria that their skin turns yellow and their body withers terribly.
By this year we have built a health clinic, 2 schools and 2 water supply systems.
The BD Foundation-funded health clinic was built in Na Buoc village. It has 5 rooms for out-patient (1), birth-delivery (1), medicines storage and medical staff (1), and in-patients (2). Each room has a chair, a desk and a single bed; each of the in-patient rooms has six beds. There are enough mats and blankets. This heath station is intended for 3 hamlets, namely Na Buoc, Hoi Phu va Na. However patients in other adjacent hamlets such as Vang Mu, Khon Than, Xuc Xam, Lang Chong, Phon Kham, Pac Hang, can also come here to be treated. Hamlet chiefs say that besides the 6 trained nurses, the district later will send one doctor here to help the people. But in the immediate, with the health clinic, at least the villagers are cared for and treated when they get common illnesses without having to buy cows for offerings by worshiping masters. From now on, pregnant women will give birth to their babies here instead of in their kitchen corners.
After completing the health clinic, we go on with Nguyen Huu Tan school in Khon Than hamlet and Duong Thi Hue school in Xuc Xam hamlet. The school-building program in Laos started with Na Khoi hamlet in 2005 (please see Phonsavan Say program). Then, villagers at other school-less hamlets came to forward their aspirations to EOCVN and BD Foundation for a school in each of the hamlets. By now, their aspirations have been realized.
Each school has three classrooms, which are built from wood, with tole roofs, wooden walls and cement floor. Each classroom has 10 pairs of desks and chairs for pupils, 1 blackboard and 1 pair of desk and chair for teacher.
Finally, there are two water supply systems donated by benefactors Ton Nu Le Ba and BD Foundation.
Goodbye and wish you the best of health,
Phan Dang Hoe.

Costs for the program
1/BD Health Clinic in Na Buoc: 5 rooms for out-patients (1), birth-delivery (1), medicines storage and medical staff (1), and in-patients. (2)
Cost: US$ 7,200 (including labour costs, chairs, desks, beds and mats)
2/ Nguyen Huu Tan School in Khon Than hamlet: 3 classrooms built with wooden pillars and walls, tole roof and cement floor.
Cost (including labour cost, chairs, desks and blackboards): US$ 7,000.
3/ Duong Thi Hue school in Xuc Xam hamlet: 3 classrooms built with wooden pillars and walls, tole roof and cement floor.
Cost (including labour cost, chairs, desks and blackboards): US$ 7,000.
4/ Two water supply systems in Vang Mu hamlet: each system costs US$ 850, including one water tank of 6 cubic meters and a 1,600 meter long pipeline from forest stream to the hamlet.
The total cost for 2007 program in Laos: 22,000 US dollars and 1,000 Canada dollars. a

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