Over these past few years, our partner LEOT, located in Luang Prabang, has been working to provide critical community services such as electricity, safe water, education and health care to extremely remote villages along the Mekong River. Whenever they do this type of work, they start with an initial visit to understand the needs and to ensure, just as importantly, that the local villagers are invested in change.
Last weekend the LEOT team made a trip to Ban Nong to update a recently GOPhil funded Health Center project plan and to meet with the village Headman and Health Center staff. The team had visited the village in May but then had to cancel two planned trips due to Laos’ treacherous monsoon weather conditions. Once monsoon season was over, the group made the journey by boat on the Mekong which turned out to be a longer and more dangerous proposition than ever imagined due to high waters and swift rapids. Moving forward, visits to the village will be made occasionally via several hours on motorbike, cross country over very difficult terrain.
The Heart of the Matter
Ban Nong is an old village in a very rural setting, settled by the Lao Loum ethnic group. Today the village has over one hundred families, mostly from the Khmu ethnic community, together with a few Lao Loum families. The main occupations are the farming of hill rice, vegetables and weaving— in general, people are very poor. Most families live in simple bamboo houses although some houses are made of brick. The village has a good water supply from the surrounding hills though it has no electricity or drainage system. Power is provided by solar panels- a strange juxtaposition to it relative economic.
The Rural Health Center (originally built by the Swiss Red Cross) is in the heart of the village and its most important functions include the delivery of babies, treatment of minor illnesses and injuries and the treatment of diarrhea and other water borne illnesses. The Center has a slim staff —a local Lao manager, three nurses and a midwife. The Center provides care for five villages with a population of nearly 2000 people, the nearest doctor and hospital being some distance away. Villagers pay for visits to the local clinic by borrowing monies from extended families.
The nurses in Ban Nhan are more or less on their own as a doctor only visits the village 2 or 3 times a year, mostly for administrative purposes. There is no equipment, drugs or supplies except for what is donated. Consequently, many illnesses and accidents go untreated or with woefully inadequate resources with death often resulting. Training of staff is the greatest concern as is the very poor standard of hygiene in the Center. This requires identifying a professional who can travel to the village and provide education and monitoring. If this educational component can be delivered, then ensuring that the Clinic has essential equipment would come next with ongoing joint planning after that.
To us at GOPhil, this amazing update is truly inspiring and highlights the enormous need and complexities of community and village capacity building and the importance of being prepared for anything and everything. Thanks to a very caring and generous donor family here in the US, the families in remote Ban Nhan will receive much needed improvements to their health care in the coming months, and we hope, onward from there. We are cheering LEOT and the villagers Ban Nong on as they work together to provide safe health care to the local villagers. Stay tuned with more to come… – Linda De Wolf