TLCB School Support, Long Tieng, Laos, December 2007
Sunee & I made another trip up to Long Tieng in December 2007. Initial intent was to look into a small water line at the two schools in the small valley just over the hill from the karst by the runway. When we got up there we found that there'd been problems with the 4-squatter toilet project at the Long Tieng primary school with additional commodities required for the toilet project.
However, let me back up a bit.
On the way up we stopped in mid-morning at the town of Moung Hom/Long San for a bowl of pho, the great noodle dish. Surprise, going on in town was the annual Hmong New Years celebrations. After eating we wandered over to the festival grounds for a bit of looksee. It was pretty much as I'd seen “back in the old days” when I was in Laos, guys & gals tossing the ball between each other, sort of a courting custom. I took a couple photos of two gals at the post office all dressed up in their finery and when we got back to Bangkok, printed them out and mailed them up to the gals.
From there we motored on up to the Phu Bia mine junction where the cutoff to Long Tieng is located. Same deal there, Hmong New Year, which we watched for a bit. Then off to Xaysomboun/Moung Cha/LS-113 for the RON. Turns out there's so little business at the Phu Bia Hotel that they posted a cell phone number on the locked door so you could call the receptionist to come over with the keys, which we did and she did. Checked in, then off to spectate at the Hmong New Year festival being held right on the old runway of LS-113. More ball tossing, lamvong dancing to the music from the loud loud speakers, a small merry-go-round, darts shooting at balloons, Beer Lao and other stuff, food stalls, looked like a good time was had by all.
Up early the next morning, chilly, 58 deg F in the room! Cold for us. Heavy ground fog. Elevation here is 3,700 feet, we'd started from Vientiane at about 550 feet. Breakfast back at the morning market, along with some wandering around. Three buses there in the market loading up for their trips, one back to Vientiane, one to KM 52 on Rt 13N, a large Hmong community that started back about 1972, and the blue one for Long Tieng and on to the PDJ.
Headed west for the one hour rough ride to the Phu Bia Mine-Long Tieng junction, New Year celebrations still going on. Saw one of the two Vientiane based private Cessna 208s flying overhead going north, our driver said it was probably chartered by the POW/MIA staff at the U.S. Embassy. Think I'll contact them and ask if anyone's taken a photo of the gold mine area, it's sure a mess with the large area of strip mining going on, gold and now largely copper, I'm told. Pit stop then two hours north via the slightly less rough road to LT.
Arrival at the gate to LT was a pleasant surprise, we were barely slowed down, guess we're becoming a known quantity there. A couple days before I'd been told by one of the U.S. Embassy staffers that some farangs doing assessments for the upcoming Nam Ngum 3 dam had recently been denied access to LT where their base for construction will be located.
We met with Xayasith, the head of the three primary schools in the area, LT and Sam Thong, and the naiban and assistant naiban for LT itself. They informed us of some of the problems with the self-help toilet project, late delivery of the cement, cement blocks, wood doors and door frames, from Xaysomboun was one of them, rainy season problems with the road. Same with digging the hole, rainy season, understandable.
At this point Xayasith requested additional funding in order to complete the project. He said that when we met rather briefly back in June to draw up the bill of materials they didn't have a carpenter/construction type person in attendance. Since then they've gone over their needs looking at what's available locally for self-help and what needs to be purchased. Turns out not much available locally, such as wood for the rafters, small trusses, and purlins for the roof structure. In addition, they need some rebar and other hardware items.
However, the people have worked on the project, the hole has been dug by the students and the school principal has collected and spent some kip 650,000 from the students & their families (about $69), not an insignificant sum in an upcountry Lao village.
At this point I decided to invest the TLCB's funds in the additional commodities to enable them to complete the toilet, and defer the proposed small water project to another trip, if it is justified. After much discussion between Xayasith, the two naibans, and a local Chinese hardware merchant, we settled on a bill of materials that should finish the job. Total came to $584 (kip 5,499,000) which I handed over to Xayasith. He figures they should now be able to complete the job by mid-January.
I'd like to try for more "bang for the buck" in these trips, eg, deliver more funds and/or commodities on a single trip, perhaps spend more time up in the area. Unfortunately, the authorities have not yet allowed us to RON at Long Tieng, or have allowed us to visit Sam Thong. The area is still pretty well restricted to “outsiders.”
Three days is about the minimum time needed for a Long Tieng trip, one day from Vientiane up to the area, RON. One day at LT, three hours up, 2-3 hours there, three to five hours back to an RON spot. Day three, back to Vientiane. Could add a day or two in the area for more talking and "shopping" but then that'd run up the pickup rental costs of $80/day.
Interesting side note, right after we arrived and were meeting with Xayasith at the school, an MI-8 helicopter landed, sort of wondered what that was all about. Later when we were having a bowl of pho for lunch next to the runway about eight SUVs pulled up and some people boarded the MI-8 which took off back to Vientiane. A couple of the SUVs headed north to Sam Thong and the PDJ. The others, including one Lexus (!), headed south back to Vientiane. We were told that it was a VIP meeting over rebuilding the road north to Xieng Khoung which will be either funded by or constructed by the Vietnamese, not clear on this point. Hmmmm, well, the Viets did build a number of roads in the area back in 1971 or so!
While we were eating, the blue bus that was seen in the morning at Xaysomboun pulled in and unloaded passengers for Long Tieng, and others who were continuing on, who had a pit and pho break. Talked to the driver, he said it's a long haul one way, goes up on Wednesday and back Thursday, then again Saturday and Sunday, kip 80,000 one way, about $8. One real steep hill to climb and normally has to unload the pax. Rainy season real problems and in a couple places needs to put on chains, no winch available. No expressways up in this area!
Driving up to LT we saw electric poles already standing up. Last June we'd been told that the extension of electricity from the next village south up the 10 km to LT should be finished this dry season. That'll bring some good changes to the valley, better Thai TV reception (?), lights, how about a computer or two? Be good if some day they could get access to a cell phone tower.
There's also a new road being constructed a bit to the west of the present road, which USAID built back around 1971 or so. The new road is necessary in order to haul the construction materials and equipment necessary for the dam, which will be some 220 meters high (that's about 720 feet!!). Major changes in store for the Long Tieng valley in the not too distant future. http://www.poweringprogress.org/updates/news/press/2006/Nam_Ngum_3.htm
After finishing up at Long Tieng we headed on over to Vang Vieng, five hours by rough road, for the night. The place is booming, in the touristy sense, guest houses and high speed internet all over the place. Next day back to Vientiane via Ban Keun (L-44), RON, then drive back home to northern Bangkok.
Photos for this trip at: 2007-12 @ http://picasaweb.google.com/mactbkk/200712LongTieng
Photos for all trips at: http://picasaweb.google.com/mactbkk/?pli=1
This trip was largely funded by the Thailand, Laos, Cambodia Brotherhood,
www.tlc-brotherhood.org, join up, help out The Kids in Thailand and Laos
Take a look at the TLCB Assistance Program at: http://tlc-brotherhood.org/thare.html
IVS & USAID/Laos, 1966-'75; retired in Thailand