Posted by Peter Roaf on Feb 26, 2019
Over time Adopt-A-Village has helped many thousands of people, mostly children, in small, remote villages of northern Laos, live healthier lives with access to clean water and, in turn, gain a valuable education to improve their lives. Providing water filters to these villages enables education support in that region, as the original aim of Adopt-A-Village, in a poor country still suffering the impact of the Vietnam War and struggling to look after its people.
For the past five years a team of Ladner Rotary members has joined Adopt-A-Village in Laos founder and Ontario Rotarian, Steve Rutledge, and several others from Canada, Italy and Denmark, to deliver the water filters and education supplies to the remote villages in Laos’s Luang Prabang province. -- story by Mike Storey, with Peter Roaf, and photos from Chris Offer, Mike Storey and multiple sources
Most villagers in northern Laos are subsistence farmers and live on very limited incomes. With life span in the 50’s for men and low 60’s for women, access to clean water will have a significant, positive impact on quality and length of life for these largely overlooked people.
Each family receiving a water filter pays a minor sum for the right of the entire village to receive one water filter per family. The investment means that each family will take ownership of their filter. Before each family receives their water filter, however, at least one family member takes part in the hygiene course where they learn how to use and maintain the filter properly. Tooth brushes and toothpaste are included with each filter along with instruction on the importance of proper hand washing.
The first stop on this year’s Adopt-A-Village water filter distribution project was Ban Xiengda village of 2,000 people. Last year, Rotary Club of Ladner led a project, with the support of other clubs in Rotary District 5040 and The Rotary Foundation, to fund and help build two small dams, 6.5 kms of pipe, a large concrete water tank and 15 tap stations spread throughout the village. This year, Rotarians returned to the village to distribute 240 more water filters, one per family, so that the running water to which they now have access will be filtered to produce clean drinking water.
The second stop was the village of Mok Kok where the team distributed 74 water filters along with tooth brushes and toothpaste after the hygiene seminar was completed. Rotarian Roland Drake of Ontario sponsored school supplies for well over 100 school kids in honour of his dad who recently passed away. 
Then it was on to Ban Houay Phoung by Tuk Tuk, a vehicle with an open back and benches for sitting. The team distributed school supplies to the students of the village school followed by the hygiene course and distribution of 81 water filters.
Finally, on the fifth and final day of the visits, the team distributed education supplies and 95 water filters in the village of Ban Thong Lom.
In each village, after the distribution of equipment and supplies, an elder performed a “Baci” ceremony when prayers were conducted, and other elders tied cotton strings to the wrists of the visiting team members while chanting a Buddhist mantra.  The white cotton threads are symbolic of “peace, harmony, good fortune, good health and human warmth and community.” After each Baci ceremony the villagers also served a meal of local foods including sticky rice, chicken, goat and various local vegetables. In one village groups of children aged 5 years to 16 years old, dressed in traditional Laos costume, representing the different tribes, performed several dances.
Each member of the Rotary team spends $3,000 to $4,000 to make this trip. They also invest countless hours fundraising for water filters through out the year. The visits to the villages can be tough going with transportation over very rough roads and temperatures in the 30’s plus high humidity and basic living conditions.
Ladner Rotarian Mike Storey, who has just completed his fifth Adopt-A-Village tour with wife, Kathy, says the reason he continues to make the personal investment of money and time to make the annual visit to Laos is: “I want to make this world a better place. I want to help those people who have very limited options and who were born into the difficult situation they find themselves in.”
When he and Kathy make this trip, he said, they get to really meet the people in these villages, and connect with them even though they don’t speak English and the two of them don’t speak Lao.
“We see first hand that what we do has tremendous meaning to them, and we can see the appreciation in their faces. They share a very touching intimate ceremony known as the Baci with us. We share food and drink, we dance together and we become friends when we visit these remote villages in Laos.
“I have found that most trips abroad give me a new appreciation for Canada and for the opportunity and freedoms that we have here. I enjoy travelling, meeting new people, helping when there is an opportunity and I also enjoy returning home to Canada to my family & friends.”
Joining Mike and Kathy from Rotary Club of Ladner were Diana Cabott Nimsick, Beau Brennen and Dawn Rutledge-Brennan, sister of the Adopt-A-Village Laos founder, Steve Rutledge, who have made tours in the past three or four years. Joining the Ladner team were Past District 5040 Governors Chris Offer and Penny Offer. They made the long journey from Vancouver to Laos by way of Taiwan and Bangkok. Also on the team were friends from previous years, four Italians, a Dane, and two Canadians, one from Saskatchewan and the other from Toronto.
The visit was not all work. The team visited a 500-acre elephant conservation area, where they prepared food and fed the elephants and walked them partway back into their jungle night time enclosure. On another day the team spent the day with a master carver learning new skills, surprising themselves with the quality of their elephant carvings and boat carvings and ended the day with an evening of welcoming meal, children’s dances representing each of the tribes or ethnic traditions of Laos.