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Facing the floodwaters in Laos

I recently visited the ChildFund office in Laos’ Nonghet district to provide English-language instruction and support for the staff. As a new consultant with ChildFund and a new resident of Laos, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. So far, it has been a beautiful and enlightening experience – but nothing, I feel, has been as eye-opening as the floodwater crossing.

Let me explain. It’s rainy season here in Laos and, as such, there is a constant battle against the ravages of nature in the fields, in the villages and on the roads. Roads here, as in much of the country, are often very basic: narrow, pitted and frequently blocked by vehicles, livestock and, at this time of the year, natural disasters.

In the three-hour drive from the provincial capital Phonsavan, we saw at least a dozen recent landslides that had covered the road with soil and debris, making it difficult to pass, even under blue skies. And then there were the floods.

As we neared Nonghet, we passed through an increasing number of places with the after-effects of flooding still visible (muddy branches, houses with water-lines, slick roads). But then, just 5km from the ChildFund office, we reached the end of the road or, rather, the end of the road for our van. In front of us lay a 500m long, 1.5m deep expanse of floodwater, created by the heavy rains over the weekend, which completely covered the road and the area around it.

Beyond being grateful for the help, I was amazed by the quiet ingenuity with which the people of that particular village transformed a devastating situation into a simple detour, at least for the people passing through. There are no statistics on just how many crops were destroyed, livestock lost to the waters or villagers killed, but it’s certain the loss was great. Losses like these are unfortunately a part of life here, but so too is the creativity, intelligence and skill that led those people to create a solution in such a short span of time.

It makes a person wonder, though, what these same men could be doing if they had been given the education to apply their skills in a larger way. Would they be living off subsistence farming or would they be engineering a new road to avoid the problem of floods altogether? Lack of opportunity is an ongoing issue in Laos, and it is this challenge that ChildFund is tackling head-on, by building schools and increasing children’s access to education. It is only through education that the current generation of Lao children will have greater opportunities than their parents to reach their full potential.

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