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.