Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Year of Living Generously

While perusing The Globe and Mail this morning, I encountered an interesting article in the Editorial & Comment section titled, Is it good to be good?, wherein Lawrence Scanlan, author of a new book, A Year of Living Generously, which I have added to my wish list, critically explores the nature of social justice and what it means to share the wealth. The article concluded with reference to the Dalai Lama, who spoke about the most important thing which we can do as human beings and that is compassion toward our fellow human beings.

Monday, December 20, 2010

In Friendship and Respect

In summer 2010, after being enlightened by Mike Yap about a humanitarian campaign called Adopt a Village in Laos, one of my roommates, Ward Weaire, donated $50 to provide a village family in rural Laos with a means to have something which we in North America take for granted, clean drinking water. Months later, the fruits of his donation were finally realised when he received a lengthy email from Steve Rutledge this evening. The email went into considerable detail about this year's water filter distribution project. Attached to the email was a photo of the family surrounding the water filter he had made possible. Affixed to the front of the water filter was a Canadian flag on which was written his name and city of residence to acknowledge his contribution to helping make the world a better place.

To share this wonderful story, I have reproduced the email which Ward received below.

Here is the family with their new water filter.

This is an enlarged image showing who donated this water filter. 
I can't believe how time has flown by so quickly.  We managed to distribute 157 water filters so far and it was probably the most positive emotional experience ever for me.  After months of fundraising, organization and preparation for the trip, the time finally came. We had been trying to contact one of the villages for an entire day to tell them that the shipment was one day late but to no avail.  Instead the families of the village trekked to the riverbank and waited until someone heard an announcement on the radio (our last alternative) telling them to return home and show up the following day instead.  It was a 1 1/2 hour trek each way.  Finally we were to meet the delivery truck and load two blackboards onto it - we couldn't get them on because the driver had picked up some other lady with her load.  So we tied them to the top of our minivan and off we went again to try to beat the truck and arrange for laborers at Nong Khiaw to transfer everything to the boats.  That wasn't to be either.  We had driven only one hour and we heard a pop.  It turned out that it was one of the mounting bolts to the rear axle - sure enough the axle had shifted so that the rear tire was rubbing against the back of the wheel well - yikes.  Stuck in the middle of nowhere we figured we would be stuck there for hours but 2  or 3 km later there just happened to be a road side bike shop.  For $4 they managed to weld a new bolt and we were off again - needless to say we didn't beat the truck.  Once we got to Nong Khiaw, we filled four long boats with filters on the main level and filter stands on the roof.  I asked them to remove the white bags that I noticed but was told that they were the bottles for the systems - strange because I didn't order any.  (I later found out that they were shipped by accident and were therefore provided for free).  We were off on the final leg of the journey.
Imagine this.  84 village families plus the two chiefs waiting for us on the side of the river after their 1 1/2 hour trek.  God knows how long they had been waiting.  Now imagine my euphoria as I drew closer to shore.  I could see the excitement on the beach...kids running...villagers organizing themselves for a warm welcome.  Tears started rolling, BUT I did manage to compose myself by the time I got to shore.  I was met by ear-to-ear smiles, much like my own except mine were white!!!!
Thank you for your sponsorship in allowing me to experience this memory of a lifetime.
There is so much more I could tell you, hours of conversation in fact but I have a lot of emails to our other sponsors to do so look forward to sharing these stories with you when I return.  This village is Pha Yong.
A word of note:  The villagers are very humble people and really don't know what to do in front of a camera.  I can assure you, as can Ted Amsden, our amazing photographer, that the villagers were smiling from ear-to-ear before they got the filter and afterwards (we also gave them Tshirts, toothbrushes and toothpaste). Some villagers were too shy to have their picture taken.  Another note: I am sending these pictures in high resolution so you can resize, zoom in to see your label, and print accordingly. I will try to update my blog as soon as I finish these emails - perhaps a couple of days.
Each label when translated, starts with 'In Friendship and Respect'.  The labels were glued on just before the picture so on some of the pictures the glue wasn't quite dry - it did dry clear, eventually.  It is hard to find glue of any kind over here. 

Photos from Mike

These are some images which Mike recently emailed me from Laos.

At 6 AM one morning, the two Jennifers and Mike joined the locals in waiting for hundreds of monks to arrive and offer them food.

In Luang Prabang, the two Jennifers and Ted Amsden (far right) sat and chatted with some young Buddhist monks, one of whom spoke a little English. They were from a temple close to the hotel where Mike, the two Jennifers and Ted were staying.

Shortly after arriving in Laos, Ted, Steve, the two Jennifers and Mike gather for drinks at the hotel in Luang Prabang.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Latest Updates from Adopt a Village in Laos

The first post is significant news for Steve Rutledge and Adopt a Village in Laos. After weeks of waiting, Adopt a Village in Laos finally achieved its much anticipated not-for-profit status.

In the second post, My Longest Hour, Steve Rutledge describes a whirlwind of significant events. One of the images (seen below) reveals only a portion of the boxes of water filters, each of which was donated by a person here in Canada, being prepared for transport to a couple of rural villages upriver from Luang Prabang. If you look carefully, you can see Steve's head behind the boxes.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Finished Reading

Early this morning I finally finished reading Greg Mortenson's book, Three Cups of Tea, which I can say was a truly wonderful, emotional and eye-opening experience for me. I can see how this book inspired Steve for Adopt a Village in Laos and I have a clearer understanding of the magnitude of the work he has embraced.

Skyping with Mike and Steve

Last night at around 7.30 PM (7.30 AM the next day in Laos), I decided to see if I could reach Mike and Steve on Skype before they headed out on their 7-hour drive to the most heavily bombed region in Laos. Luckily, after several rings Mike's happy face filled my screen from 13,000 kilometres (8,100 miles) away. For the duration of the video call, the connection was mostly free of hiccups.

Unfortunately, I was only able to chat with Mike and Steve for a few minutes. Steve didn't have much time to talk because he was rushing to get ready for an early morning meeting. But in that time he spoke excitedly about all the wonderful work, including a school project, they have been doing and indicated that he would be posting updates to his own blog, Adopt a Village in Laos.

Before Mike had to surrender the computer to Ted Amsden, the Northumberland Today journalist who is documenting Steve and Mike's work in Laos, so that he could upload some photos, Mike and I chatted for a couple of minutes more. Just prior to concluding the call, Mike made his signature signoff face, a grotesque caricature of his own face, which I, in turn, mimicked, then we waved and said good-bye to each other.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mike Touches Base from Laos

At 10.57 AM this morning (that's 10.57 PM Laos time), I received an email from Mike, who has been in Laos since December 5. He explained that the five of them had just arrived back in Luang Prabang that evening. Though he didn't go into any detail, he continued by saying that they had done all the things they had needed to do with the hill tribes. Tomorrow they will be "heading out to the most heaviest [heavily] bomed [bombed] area in Laos". This is about a seven-hour drive from Luang Prabang and stay in that area overnight.

I replied to ask him if he had read any of the emails which I had sent to him over the weekend. A short time later, a reply came back congratulating me on my fundraising efforts. He promised that he would relay the good news to Steve.

In the days to come, I hope to have some detailed accounts of the work they have been doing thus far.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Passion of the Heart

Last night our household officially inaugurated the holiday season with a big house party, which went on into the wee hours of the morning. Everyone had a truly wonderful time. The evening was filled with wonderful people, lots of good food and drink, great conversation, dancing and entertainment.

During the course of the evening, three surprises presented themselves, each of which simply warmed my heart and made my spirit sing.

The first surprise came from an older friend, John, who after having read the latest issue of my newsletter, gave me a small white envelope within which was contained a cheque for $100 to put toward the cost of my flight to Laos next year.

The second surprise came from my new friend, Alvin, who presented me with a small envelope within which was contained a beautiful little card (see image above) accompanied by an equally beautiful sentiment. A post scriptum was included, which said:

Please accept the contents of this card as a contribution to your humanitarian efforts...truly a passion of the heart.

The contents of the card was $100 in cash, which Alvin told me was to help cover the cost of my flight.

The third and final surprise was presented by my friend Peter in a small brightly coloured, finely detailed envelope. Inside it was $160 in cash (enough to cover three water filters), which Peter explained was a donation to Adopt a Village in Laos. This money I will keep safely tucked away until I can personally give it to Steve upon his return from Laos in April 2011.

With the contributions which I received toward the cost of my flight, my travel fund now stands at $620, which is about one-third of the way to my goal.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thinking About Laos

Late Wednesday afternoon I decided to go out for a couple of beers at my neighbourhood bar. As I was drinking, I began to think deep thoughts and those thoughts drifted toward Laos. As I continued to think, I felt tears well up in my eyes. Even though I haven't been to Laos yet, it is already having an effect upon me. Since I started reading Three Cups of Tea, this book is having a profound influence on and shift in my consciousness. I was thinking about all the wonderful things that Steve and Mike are doing for the villagers in Laos. And even though I knew that it wasn't possible for me to venture to Laos this year, I truly wished that I had been able to go with them this year.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Journey to Laos Newsletter

After creating the new newsletter, I emailed a copy to Steve. In his reply he said that he liked it but he was nervous about my travel fundraiser part. He explained that, "the newsletter is supposed to be about Laos, its culture, our progress and all kinds of things but it shouldn't be about fundraising for yourself to go." He had a perfectly valid point with which I could not disagree. I revised the Adopt a Village in Laos newsletter, which remains in production, and created another newsletter, My Journey to Laos, which exclusively focuses on me, extracts from this blog and my travel fundraiser updates.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Travel Fundraiser Update

This afternoon I got together with a friend at the local cafe. Earlier she had phoned me and requested that I meet her there because she had something special to give me. Shortly after I arrived, she very discretely slipped something into my hand. When I looked down, my eyes widened for in my hand was a crisp $100 bill. She explained that this was toward the cost of my flight to Laos, whereupon I hugged her and thanked her from the bottom of my heart.

-- Post From My iPhone

New Newsletter Distributed

Yesterday morning I gave one of my friends a copy of the special issue of Adopt a Village in Laos newsletter, which you can download for yourself from the sidebar at right. That afternoon he made fifty copies and went out on the street to distribute them. When we got together this morning, I asked him how the newsletter was received. Of the three locations where he distributed the newsletters, the people in Yorkville reacted in an overwhelmingly enthusiastic and positive way.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Chatting with Steve and Mike

Currently renting a house, which serves as his base of operations until April 2011, in Luang Prabang, the second largest city in Laos with a population of about 103, 000, I caught Steve eating breakfast when I connected with him via Skype just after 8 PM Eastern Time Friday evening (8 AM Saturday morning in Laos). Surprisingly, considering a distance of 13, 000 km, the connection was, for the most part, good. On a few occasions the audio or video would momentarily cut out, distort, or freeze.

Steve related some details about what's been going on there with the projects, certain government officials and dealing with some bureaucratic issues with respect to his visa. He said that he would expand on these aspects via email in the next few days. As soon as anything does become available, I will post it here.

On Sunday, when Mike, Jennifer Hawthorn, Jennifer Mercer, and Ted Amsden arrive, they will be staying at this house with Steve.

Later that same night I called Mike to wish him a safe journey. In order for them to make their Air Canada flight later that morning, Mike said that one of the Jennifer's family members would be chauffeuring these Laos-bound travellers from Port Hope to Pearson International Airport in the wee hours of Saturday morning. While our household is hosting a special holiday party next Saturday, I informed Mike that I would try to call him, Steve and the others on Skype to wish them all the very best of the season. Presuming we can connect then, this will provide an excellent opportunity for me to introduce the people at the party, most of whom have only heard me talk about what I am doing or read the newsletters, to the people who are actually involved in this humanitarian campaign.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Revised Newsletter Published Today

In this special issue, which is now double-sided, I have tweaked the text a little bit, added a small, black-bounded box at the bottom of the page titled, My Journey to Laos: Travel Fundraiser. Inside the box it states how much money has been raised so far and asks if you would like to contribute something to help me reach my goal. I also put a starburst beside the masthead to advertise the video of the Adopt a Village in Laos fundraiser at the Capitol Theatre this past October.

On the reverse side it includes information from the first edition and a sidebar containing some quick facts about and a small map of Laos.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Created New Skype Account

Before I retired for the evening last night, I created a new Skype account, myjourneytolaos, specifically for my trip to Laos so that I can stay in touch with friends and family while I am there next year.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lao Hill Tribes: Traditions and Patterns of Existence

Last night before heading off to bed, I decided to go online see and what historical information there is on Laos. In short order I found a cornucopia of information, including a 152-page essay on History of Laos by Maha Sila Virarong, which has been translated from the original Laos. Much of the online information I encountered I have bookmarked for future reference. I have also added a couple of these links to the Laos Links section of my blog.

In addition to online sources, I perused Indigo's online store and stumbled upon a fascinating book, Lao Hill Tribes: Traditions and Patterns of Existence, by Stephen Mansfield. Originally published in 2000 by Oxford University Press, the publisher describes this book thusly:
This highly distinctive cultures and ethnic diversity of the Lao hill tribes - and the fact that so little has been written about them - make these groups and their fragile micro-cultures some of the most fascinating minorities left in the world. Lao Hill Tribes is the first book to look exclusively at the subject.
Sadly, I discovered that this book is not only sold out, but no longer in print. Undaunted, I checked out a couple of options in used books. I hit gold when I visited Amazon, where, much to my delight, I found copies of this book. With little discrepancy between currencies, the U.S. outlet has several copies at a price more reasonable than its Canadian counterpart. Over the holidays one of my friends will be visiting family in the U.S. He said that he will have his partner order a copy and have it shipped to where they will be staying. He will bring the book back when he returns to Canada and present it as a gift to me.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Visiting Mike One Last Time

Because I knew that I wouldn't be seeing Mike until his return to Canada in April 2011, I decided two weekends ago to see if I could manage to get together with him one last time before he leaves for Laos on December 4. Initially, I had planned to have one of my roommates drive me out to Port Hope, but last Wednesday these plans changed. I received an email from Mike saying that Sammy, the owner of Port Hope's Bualai Taste of Thai restaurant, where Mike and Steve hosted their first fundraiser for Adopt a Village in Laos, offered to pick me up at the GO station in Oshawa and drive me back to Toronto the following Monday. So I arranged with Mike to meet them at the station about 2.15 pm on Friday afternoon.

Within ten minutes of the train pulling into Oshawa, Sammy, Mike, and Kai Sing, Mike and Steve's miniature Schnauzer, arrived. On the way back to Port Hope, Sammy took the scenic route along Lakeshore Drive, which gently winds its way close to Lake Ontario. When we came to a stretch of road flanked by forest, three deer, in rapid succession, suddenly leapt across the road and then quickly disappeared into the forest on the other side. On reaching Newcastle, I asked Sammy to pull over for a few minutes where I braved the elements to take some pictures.

About an hour later we arrived at the Bualai restaurant, where Mike promptly took Kai Sing up to Sammy's apartment above the restaurant and left him in the company of her three little dogs. Then I helped Sammy resolve a couple of minor computer issues, after which Mike and I sat down to dine on some sumptuous Thai cuisine.

In the evening Mike took me to the Capitol Theatre, where the Adopt a Village in Laos fundraiser had taken place in October, to experience the Christmas Festival of Light and Trees, a collection of eighty finely adorned trees decorated by local businesses and individuals. The sight of all these trees was overwhelmingly beautiful and simply magical. There was a warmth and intimacy about it all which a big city can't reproduce.

Later that night Sammy drove us back to Steve and Mike's house.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning - sometime between 3 am and 4 am - I stirred and happened to glance out the window, where my eyes beheld thin layers of snow caressing the bare branches. When I  finally got out of bed a couple of hours later, big fat snowflakes saturated and drifted through the air, and the countryside was carpeted in a sea of white. Later that morning, Mike and I ventured out into this winter wonderland to take Kai Sing out for a leisurely walk.

At around 11 am that morning, Jennifer Hawthorn, one of the three accompanying Mike to Laos, arrived to take us and Kai Sing into Port Hope, where she and Mike would have their hair cut. When we got to Port Hope, Jennifer went to have her hair done first, leaving Mike, me and Kai Sing to wander around town for an hour. During our travels we popped into Hinchcliffe & Lee to say hello to Barbara, the proprietor, and sauntered down near the waterfront, where a cold wind blew off the lake.

About an hour later we returned to the hair salon in time for Mike's appointment. While I waited, the staff treated me to hot apple cider and freshly baked cookies. Afterwards, we met up with Jennifer and decided to watch a bit of Port Hope's own Santa Claus parade. There, we ran into Cleve and his wife, members of the Port Hope Rotary Club and who had attended that special dinner at Steve and Mike's house on October 30. In the parade we saw Jennifer Mercer, who is also accompanying Mike to Laos, and her Jazz It Up! contingent. Eventually, we succumbed to the cold and retreated to the warmth of Sammy's restaurant across the street and had lunch.

While we grazed, Jennifer and Mike reviewed some important details about the Laos trip. A bit later, on the way back to Steve and Mike's house, we briefly stopped at the Railside restaurant, where we joined Jennifer Mercer, who had texted the other Jennifer while we were at the Bualai restaurant, and her daughter. The conversation naturally drifted to the impending trip to Laos.

When Mike and I finally got back to the house, he put on some classical guitar music and went for a nap. I curled up on one of the couches with my book, Three Cups of Tea, and finished reading chapter eight. After Mike awoke, he concentrated on making dinner. Later, we watched a movie. Then, I retired for the night, while Mike stayed up until the early hours with his laptop.

Sunday was a lazy day. Both of us didn't rise until 9 am. We had breakfast, then went out for two-hour jaunt with Kai Sing. When we got back, we were famished and had lunch. Mike went for a nap and I simply lounged, then read chapter nine of Three Cups of Tea. At 6.30 pm, we had dinner. A couple of hours later, while sipping steaming cups of mint tea watched a movie before retiring for the night.

Monday morning. We got up at about 7.30 am, had breakfast, and then took Kai Sing out for a short walk. At 9 am Sammy arrived. I collected my things and loaded Kai Sing's belongings into Sammy's vehicle. Along the way we stopped at the home of Teresa Hawthorn, mother of Jennifer Hawthorn, to drop off Kai Sing. This is the place where he would be lovingly tended to for the next several months while Steve and Mike are away. Then we said our good-byes to Kai Sing and departed.

Driving back to Toronto, Sammy took the same scenic route we had come on our way to Port Hope. Once we hit the 401, we were back in Toronto in no time at all. Sammy dropped me off at the McCowan LRT stop, where we said our good-byes and I gave Mike a big warm hug.

When I got on the LRT, a profound sadness swept over me, not only because I wouldn't be seeing Mike for the next few months, but also missing that small town with which, each time I go there, I leave a little piece of myself behind.

My Journey to Laos: Travel Fund Update

While I was at my local cafe, Java Jive, this morning, my friend Gary, a regular patron of this establishment, shared some fantastic news with me. He, his sister and his mother have contributed a total of $300 toward the cost of my flight to Laos next year. Upon hearing this news, I was completely beside myself. I gave him a big hug and thanked him so much.

Laos Update: November 29, 2010

Yesterday Mike received an update from Steve about what's been happening since he arrived in Laos. Below is a portion of that email.

Yesterday was a really long day but fruitful. I met with the regional Governor, the General Manager for Hygiene and Water and the General Manager of Education, all located in Non Khiaw. They are all coming to celebrate the opening of the first of schools. He, [the] Governor, was joking with us when he said that we stole 2 schools (meaning that we skipped all the red tape and the processes required for approval) and that he wished we would steal more. I am guessing that they get bogged down all the time with process and they are pretty happy with the results when I skipped them. After that we visited the village with the mud hole for a water source. They can't use the one that I had a picture of, but there were three more locations we trekked to. The only reliable one was about an hour trek each way - there is a really small one that is only 20 minutes and the water is relatively clear but it is so small, certainly not enough to feed a whole village. And the hygiene is simply non existent. There was one guy who was really thirsty and simply went down to this mirky water to take a drink - I wouldn't let him and gave him my water. They [bathe] in a nearby river where there is also excrement (human and other) plus this where they say there are often dead animals and also where they dump the remains of people who have died. Once back to the village there I found that there were no latrines of any kind - they just go behind the bushes. It was a sad story indeed. I am looking forward to going back to announce our intentions to provide a new water source and to provide water filters. At least they will be able to take showers, etc. I will also try to convince them that they need latrines, even if they aren't up to our standards.
It was a long day yesterday, but I managed to [summarize] all of their requests below.
The Governor has told us that the government's mandate is to provide at least temporary roads to all villages in the district before they can focus on water sources followed by schools. There are still 48 villages without a temporary road. From the education ministry there are 11 schools on their list requiring immediate assistance. From the Hygiene/Water Department there are 6 villages without a reliable water source. Total - 65 projects. I have to review the AAVIL mandate but I don't think village access is one of them unless it prevents us from building a school. (AAVIL - Adopt a Village in Laos). The big problem is the bridges.
Anyway I have asked for much more information and will take it back to Rick Norlock [Member of Parliament for Port Hope] to see if the Canadian Government may be able to give us any assistance.
For Cleve and Ron [Rotary Club members] - don't even think that I am considering trying to do all of the projects. It is tough enough to manage four or five projects at the same time, let alone 65.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Special Personal Issue

This week I published a special issue of Adopt a Village in Laos newsletter. It is a very personal issue in that it specifically focuses on seeking sponsors to help me finance my trip to Laos in December 2011. In the coming year, I will likely explore other avenues to help me raise money for this great endeavour.

Greg Mortenson Interview

This interview with Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, one of the sources of inspiration for Adopt a Village in Laos, and its sequel, Stones into Schools.

Additional video material about Greg Mortenson can be found on YouTube and on iTunes U on iTunes.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Three Cups of Tea

This past Monday I celebrated another milestone on my journey to Laos when I popped into my local Indigo and picked up a copy of Greg Mortenson's book, Three Cups of Tea. On Tuesday, I made a personal commitment to reading at least one chapter of this book a day. Today, I am embarking on chapter seven.

On several occasions this week, some friends and acquaintances have seen me reading or noticed the reference to this book in the special issue of Adopt a Village in Laos newsletter, which I published this week. They have remarked that they have either read the book, of which they speak glowingly, or know the title.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Skype Talk

This evening while I was videoconferencing via Skype with Mike, who is still in Canada until the beginning of December, Steve suddenly popped online. Sharing my excitement with Mike, I told him that we would resume our conversation a bit later.

When I connected with Steve, we couldn't believe how amazingly clear the connection was, considering the distance of about 15,000 kilometres (about 9,300 miles) between us. With the exception of a couple of transmission hiccups here and there, our videoconference was essentially perfect. The conversation, which only lasted for a few minutes, was light and easy. I discovered that he was visiting Singapore for a couple of days with one of his work colleagues from Laos. The time difference between Singapore and Toronto is 12 hours, and at the time we were chatting it was just after 8 AM Monday morning their time.

Hopefully, we will be able to maintain some semblance of communication while they are in Laos, but this will be entirely dependent on where they are and if there is any kind of Internet access available. In major centres like Luang Prabang, this is not an issue. However, as one moves out of the major centres and into the jungle where the villages are, this becomes increasingly challenging.

New Twitter Follower

This afternoon at 2.22 PM my world expanded again when I received an email that Southeast Asia News is now following my tweets on myjourneytolaos Twitter feed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reflecting on the Journey So Far

The most astonishing thing about this journey so far is that I have already traveled such a great distance in such a short span of time. It was only in July that I met Mike, who first told me about Adopt a Village in Laos. Weeks later, I met Steve, the other driving force behind this grassroots organisation. To both of them, I am extremely grateful for having entered their orbit. My creativity has been stimulated. My sense of adventure has been rekindled. An incredible and inexorable sense of excitement has been ignited deep within me, which I am sharing with other people every chance I get to tell them about the work with which I am involved. Above all, it is the forging of connections with new people both near (and soon to be far) that is most enriching and rewarding for me.

At the beginning of October, I recorded one of their fundraising presentations, and then a week later I presented it to the world by uploading it to YouTube. In mid-October, this blog came into being, not only to expand awareness but to share the passion I feel for the work they are doing. With momentum unabated, November opened and saw the creation of a newsletter dedicated to Adopt a Village in Laos. The most recent milestone occurred this week when I started reading Greg Mortenson's book, Three Cups of Tea, which is the book that inspired (and continues to inspire) Steve in his work.

As Joseph Campbell so eloquently stated when one has found one's true passion in life, he said:

Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn't know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for
anyone else.

I think this is the bliss which I was intended to follow.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Making Connections

Yesterday while I was checking the stats on my blog, I noticed that I had a visitor from Laos. I wondered if it might be Steve, so I emailed him. Later that same day, I received a reply in which he said that indeed it was him. He had been showing my blog to a colleague at one of his meetings.

Being the curious guy that I am, I replied to this email and asked Steve how did this person react to seeing my blog. A short time later he replied (and I quote):

Quite frankly, the guy was a bit overwhelmed - actually he was a lot overwhelmed.  He had no idea just how much work so many people are putting into making Laos a better place for its people.

Inside, I smiled. Even though I wasn't able to be there physically, I was still making an impression on and connecting with others.

Tuning in to Laos

While I was on the iTunes store last night, I decided to take a look to see if there was anything Laos-related. Well, lo and behold, there was. I discovered a small collection of apps for the iPhone. One which really caught my attention and which I subsequently downloaded is WR Laos Radio. Through this app you can listen to Laos-based radio stations. This provides an excellent way to educate oneself about, immerse oneself in, and become intimately acquainted with Laos culture.

This audio sample from Hmong Lao Radio, one of four default radio stations bundled with this app, is a morning intro announcing the start of this station's broadcasting day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Three Cups of Tea: An Inspiration for Adopt a Village in Laos

Before Steve left for Laos earlier this week, he told me about one of the greatest inspirations for  Adopt a Village in Laos. It is this book, Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson. He suggested that I read it to gain a better perspective of the humanitarian work which he and Mike are doing. I will certainly do that.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Back to Laos: The Work Continues

In the wee hours of Monday, November 15, Steve Rutledge, one of the founders of Adopt a Village in Laos, departed from Pearson International Airport in Toronto on a 26-hour flight to Laos, where he will be based until April 2011. Ports of call on this long journey include Hong Kong, Bangkok, Hanoi, and finally, Luang Prabang.

On December 5, Mike Yap, the other founder, and three other Port Hope locals will join Steve in Laos. For these three people, who have never been to Laos before, it will certainly be an eye-opening, life-altering experience for them all. Jennifer Hawthorn will be teaching basic English to the villagers. Jennifer Mercer will be doing a dance exchange program with the hill tribe villagers. Lastly, Ted Amsden, a writer for Northumberland Today, the local newspaper in Port Hope, and professional photographer, will be documenting their journey through the lens.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Adopt a Village in Laos newsletter

On the morning of November 6, I created this beautiful little newsletter, which is drawn from the introductory text on Steve Rutledge's blog, Adopt a Village in Laos. It is a great icebreaker for people who are unfamiliar with what Adopt a Village in Laos is and what Adopt a Village in Laos does.

Since its creation, I have been distributing it via email or making actual copies and giving it to people.

A downloadable version of the newsletter can be found on the right sidebar on this blog. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Great Gathering

The evening last night at Steve and Mike's home was a wonderfully informal and intimate gathering of friends - thirteen people in all. Chef Mike presided in preparing a fabulously improvised, delicious and colourfully presented meal, which although a bit spicy for some, was consumed and enjoyed by all. It was followed by a sumptuously and sinfully sensational chocolate cake decorated with fresh blueberries.

After dinner everyone retired to the theatre room where they got a preview of the DVD I had created of the presentation at the Capitol Theatre on Thanksgiving weekend. The response to the DVD was overwhelmingly positive, even from Ted Amsden, who is normally difficult to impress.

Of the thirteen people who attended the dinner that night, three of them, Jennifer Hawthorn (extreme left, will be teaching basic English), Ted Amsden (professional photographer and writer, third from left with glasses, will be documenting this trip ) and Jennifer Mercer (far right, dance instructor, will be teaching dance to and learning traditional dance from the hill tribe people), will be venturing to Laos for the very first time. They will be joining Mike (in front wearing black shirt, one of the founders of Adopt a Village in Laos) on the flight there and meeting Steve (second from the left, the other founder of Adopt a Village in Laos) in Luang Prabang.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Special Dinner

This weekend I have ventured off to Port Hope again. On this occasion I will be attending a special dinner, which has several facets to it.

  • To thank those who have contributed to this project in various capacities.
  • To touch base with those who will be joining Steve and Mike in Laos.
  • For those going to Laos, to have an opportunity to voice any last-minute questions or concerns with Steve before he leaves for Laos in November.

Originally, I had planned to take the GO Train to Oshawa (the end of the GO line), where Steve and Mike would have picked me up in their van. But when I was chatting with them on Skype earlier this week, Steve graciously offered to drive into Toronto and pick me up. So around 8 AM this morning, they arrived and stopped into Java Jive, the community cafe next to where I live, to have some breakfast before heading back to Port Hope.

Shortly after their arrival I presented them with five copies of the Adopt a Village in Laos: Presentation at the Capitol Theatre DVDs. One copy was, of course, for them. The remaining copies they can freely give to their close friends for feedback. Perhaps these DVDs might be a way of helping to raise money to fund their project?

On the drive back to Port Hope, Steve informed me that for all my hard work behind the scenes I could have my name inscribed on either a sign for one of the hygiene toilets or on a plaque for one of the schools. I was honoured. After a moment of thought, I selected the plaque.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

DVD Version Released Yesterday

On Saturday afternoon I turned my attention to creating a DVD version of the video footage. After a few hours of the computer laboriously crunching through the video, a DVD master was ready to be burned. Once the master had been made and an electronic copy created from this master, I reproduced several copies which I will present to Steve and Mike on my visit to Port Hope next weekend.

The image above is the cover insert for the DVD jewel case.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Capitol Theatre Event Video

Upon my return to Toronto after my Thanksgiving visit to Port Hope, I set to work on editing the video had I shot of the Capitol Theatre event. Several days later I had a finished product before me. Prior to uploading this video to YouTube, I had to divide it into six segments and individually upload each segment, which took a few hours at a time. Last night I silently cheered to myself when the final part finished uploading to YouTube. My work was done - for now.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Things to take with you

As an introduction to preparing for my trip to Laos, which won't happen until December 2011, Steve Rutledge, who is spearheading the Adopt A Village in Laos project, has compiled this list of things one needs to take in one's backpack.

  • Small bottle of hand sanitizer
  • Drugs for bladder infection (prescription)
  • Bug spray with DEET
  • Full bottle of extra strength Tylenol and another one of Advil
  • Vitamins - 1000 mg Vitamin C and One-A-Day
  • Bath towel (large)
  • Saree (for women)
  • Protein or snack bars (no chocolate in them, it will melt) as a supplement to meals.
  • DO NOT take jewelry. We do not want to show wealth - could be targets for theft and we want to show respect to them by not flaunting what we have.
  • Salt packets (if you are heavy salt eaters) and put in re-sealable plastic bag
  • Large roll of toilet paper unless you want to use sticks
  • Flip-flops for the villages and old running or hiking shoes for the treks
  • Swimming clothes (if you dare to swim in the river)
  • Flashlight (small) - will need it after dark for sure
  • Re-sealable plastic bags for anything you need to keep dry.
  • Passport sized photos (4 cm x 6 cm for Vietnam) - Canadian passport photos are slightly larger so they should do. Take 4 in total - 2 for Vietnam, 1 for Laos and 1 extra in case you need it.
  • For Vietnam, get a Visa permit letter on-line - it is cheaper. It is even cheaper if going as a group and one person do the visa letter application. It takes three days for the letter to appear on-line where it can be printed. You need to take this with you along with an entry/exit permit which can be downloaded at the same time as the visa letter.
  • Passport cannot have less than 6 months left on it before expiry
  • Suntan lotion if you burn easily (at least a 35)
  • Snacks for flight - suggest also hard-to-find candy for descents if your ears are prone to uncomfortable pressure changes
  • Balloons and wrapped candy for the kids - we will have more than that but you will be disappointed if you are by yourself for some time and don't have anything to give them.
  • Lip gloss (Chocolate flavour is OK because the lip gloss will likely melt anyway if you leave it out).
  • Luggage: you can take 2 bags for check-in - total can weigh from 20 kg (44 lbs.) on Cathay Pacific to 23 kg (50 lbs.) for Air Canada. Carry-on - 10 kg (22 lbs.), but there are size limitations. You can also carry a notebook bag or purse, duty-free stuff. Rules change so doublecheck before you go. No gels, toothpaste, perfume, etc,..
  • Note: If you plan to stopover in Vietnam overnight due to long connections, you may want to check your bags right through to Luang Prabang and just throw some overnight stuff in your backpack.
  • If you have a Canadian flag pin, I suggest you wear it.
  • Schedule appointment with travel clinic 3 to 4 months before you plan to leave. Estimate $500 for shots and medications.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Brighter Future For Laos

While I was visiting Mike and Steve over the Thanksgiving weekend, Mike showed me the Fall 2010 issue of GO!, a local magazine touching on life in Northumberland county, Ontario. In this issue it featured a beautifully written article about them and how they are striving to make life better for the Hill tribes which live in northern Laos. To get an in-depth perspective of how ordinary people can make a real difference, visit Steve's blog, Adopt a Village in Laos.

Friday, October 15, 2010

My Journey to Laos: The Voyage Begins

It is said that a journey begins with a single step. On Tuesday, July 6, that journey to Laos began when I met Mike Yap, who introduced me to the Adopt a Village project. Having always been fascinated by other cultures, I was immediately captivated by the concept. 

In mid-August I visited Port Hope, where Mike and his partner, Steve Rutledge, who is the other half of the driving force behind this humanitarian effort, reside. That weekend I listened to Steve talk with great enthusiasm about their work. I became more and more intrigued.

On Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, I visited them again. On that Saturday night, I had the honour of attending their presentation/fundraiser for the Adopt a Village in Laos project at the beautifully restored Capitol Theatre in downtown Port Hope, Ontario. Having never had their presentation/fundraisers captured on video before, I volunteered to record this event with my iPhone. When I returned home, I would edit it and then upload it to YouTube in hopes of  raising awareness of their work to a larger audience.

From that weekend I came away glowing inside with a wonderfully positive energy. Inspired, I made a commitment to myself and to Mike and Steve that I would join them in and help them with their endeavours in Laos in December 2011. I'm not sure how I'm going to get there, but knowing myself I will find a way to attain that goal.