As I sit here at Bangkok Airport waiting for my flight home, I have some time (about 7 hours actually) to reflect on the last two weeks. We packed in a lot of cycling, lots of visits to various villages and monuments, and interacted with the locals in ways that would not have been possible as a regular visitor to these two incredible countries.
Along the way, I met a wonderful bunch of people, my fellow fundraisers and cyclists, who each had their own fascinating story of how they became a part of the team and what they did to raise the necessary funds for the clean water and sanitation project in Laos.
Our time with the communities was richly rewarding for us, and I hope too for our hosts. There were also some things that opened my eyes a bit more to the work that NGOs like ChildFund are doing in these communities. For example, despite the best intentions of visitors, we were asked not to hand any gifts of any kind to the children and families we visited in Laos and if we had something we wanted to give, then it should be given to the ChildFund coordinator for the area to be distributed appropriately. We were informed that giving handouts encourages a culture of begging that they are obviously trying to keep out. In fact, I don’t recall seeing a single beggar in Laos, even in the main tourist areas.
More to my surprise though, and it makes perfect sense when you think about it, the families who will be receiving the toilets that we were fundraising for do not simply have it handed to them. Each family needs to put in a certain percentage of the cost of the toilets based on their relative wealth within the community and also do the labour to actually build them. This gives the individual household a sense of ownership and pride and thus they will look after them. The philosophy is working as the demand for more household toilets is rising from the individual families in the villages. Great news.
ChildFund Australia would like to thank Al and the rest of the Laos Water Cycle team for being amazing participants – through the great times and the challenges! – and for raising over $80,000 for water and sanitation projects in Nonghet, Laos. If Al’s story has inspired you, we are now taking registrations for our next overseas challenge, the Sri Lanka Cycle Against Poverty. To support our work in Laos and have the opportunity to visit Nonghet yourself, join our new Global Community program.