The first time that I visited the small country of Laos in 1996, one sign at the airport said, “Show All Weapons”.  That sign spoke volumes about the frontier nature of the country.

Over the last twenty years, much has changed in Laos, but thankfully the nation still retains a beautiful rustic quality, making it a wonderful country to visit.

Laos is home to 150 colourful ethnic groups, many who still follow ancient tribal traditions as they make their living on the mountain slopes.   Using slash and burn methods, they grow rice and a few vegetables.  The crops are rarely enough to provide adequate nutrition for all.  Close to half of the children under five suffer from stunting and malnutrition. With lowered immune systems, one child in eleven will not survive to their fifth birthday.

ADRA Canada has been working hard to reduce child mortality in Laos since 1994.

One important step has been to help villages develop water systems.  Before ADRA’s help, people used the steep jungle inclines on the outskirts of the village when “nature called”.  This proved especially difficult in the middle of the night during the rainy season!  ADRA provides the pipes, cement and engineering expertise, while the villagers provide the labour.  With water, it suddenly becomes practical for every family to have a latrine just a few steps from their homes!

Water also helps people grow kitchen gardens near their homes.  ADRA nutritionists teach mothers how to cook and preserve the new vegetables, fruits and herbs that provide balanced nutrition for their families.

The health and sanitation information that ADRA shares is enthusiastically implemented.  People begin to sweep their villages clean and keep their animals from wandering freely.

I always enjoy visiting the beautiful mountain people of Laos. Their gentle nature is inspiring.  Their gratitude for the help that they have received from Canada is touching.

Rhia Vang, of the Hmong ethnic group, had this to say:

“Since ADRA started working in our village, everything has changed!  Now the children can bathe right here at home.   Now it is so much easier to keep our house clean.  I can wash our food before I cook.  We can wash our clothes, our dishes, even our blankets! It used to take me two hours every day just to make one trip to the river.  Now we are only a few steps away from water!  ADRA has also given us a lot of training on health, hygiene and sanitation.  We have learned a lot about what makes our children sick and all of the things that we can do to keep our children healthy. They have shown us how to cook nutritious meals for our children and to make sure they are full before we send them to school.”  

The work that ADRA is doing in Laos is saving children’s lives.  We are grateful for the support of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and our generous supporters.