2009 Lahu Villages

See an article about this trip in the Big Island Weekly!

      David Loeding from Hilo, my wife Kana, daughter Jenna and I left Kona Airport 27 May.  Flight to Bangkok via Narita.  Arriving at midnight, we spent one night near the airport and took the morning flight to Chiang Mai.  Found a nice guesthouse near the center of town, pool, with a monthly rate just under $200.  Met up with HIHF board member Mark Bleadon and HIHF friend Fred.

The next several days we had meetings with the people at Kids Ark and Child’s Dream.  The former we’ve worked with several years in their projects with the Lahu Hill Tribe villages to the northeast of Chiang Mai near the Burmese border.  The latter was a new contact.  Child’s Dream has, over the last six years, built 75 schools in villages in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and along the Burmese border. We also made contact again with Glenn Croston of the Croston House to arrange a time and date for our trip to the orphanage.

We made sure that construction of the methane generator in Ban Hoi Poo would soon be underway, and arranged for the purchase of about a hundred blankets, many, many fairly high quality hoe heads, and four bio-sand water filtration systems for the four villages we would visit later in the month.  We purchased the blankets from Kids Ark who had the Women’s Crisis Center, one of the many good things they started in northern Thailand, make them, so it felt like two birds with one stone.  The water filtration systems were manufactured by a Canadian outfit.  Once in place, the filtration systems would cost nothing to maintain.  The producers claim that 100 percent of sediment and parasites are removed, and 95 percent of the bacteria is removed from water filtered by this process.  I expect infant mortality rates to decline in the villages we’ve placed the systems.  I also expect that other villages will hear about the system and want to have one of their own.  As the systems are simple to make, there will be, in the future, no need to purchase them from the Canadian organization.  One of the Lahu villages should be able to make them, we’ll buy from them and distribute to the villages.

The hoe heads were the idea of Shila, head of the Lahu Association of Thailand.  Last year we followed his advice and provided basic life necessities (soap, toothpaste, rice, salt, and clothing) to five villages.  This year he thought tools and blankets were in greater need.  As always, we followed his advice.

On June 18th we loaded up the Kids Ark Pickups and took the three hour drive up to Ban Pooh Hai.  Besides the drivers, we took two other Kids Ark staff who had attended a training session on the water filtration systems.  They would teach they villagers how to use the system and would act as translators for our communication with the local people.

When we arrived in Ban Pong Hai we were delighted to see that the medical clinic was finished.  We had supported the construction of the new clinic for two years, starting four years ago and had been disappointed to see that almost nothing had been done last year.  Then, presto.  About 11 relatively near villages will use the clinic.

The same day we went to Ban Hoi Poo to find good progress on the construction of the generator.  Cement for the main assembly was drying, remaining were the metal cap placement, the trough from the pig pen to the system, and gas lines from the generator to the homes.  We put a water filtration system in the village temple where all could use it.  The village has about 60 families with about 260 people, all Lahu, all poor poor.  None of the villagers have Thai ID cards, which means they are not permitted to travel more than a few miles from their village for work and they are unable to use Thai hospitals without paying extremely high rates for care.  The problem is not unique to the Lahu but similar to other hill tribe groups, but they are not as well organized as the Aka or Karen, so the problem is more pronounced.  It’s basic subsistence farming but sometimes they can find agricultural work at nearby large, generally corporate farms at three to four dollars a day.

The next stop was Ban Hoi Tau where we had built last year’s methane generator.  We wanted to make sure that the system was operative.  Much to our delight, not only was the system working but it was greatly appreciated.  It was worth the long muddy hike where the truck couldn’t go. The villagers used the generator  for cooking food and boiling water for babies.  There are many reasons for our decision to focus on methane generators.

    1. Free fuel from the pig poop,  This reduces the number of trees that are cut down and hauled which in turn reduces erosion. This is important because the villages are virtually all in mountainous or hilly areas.
      Reduction of diarrhea and dysentery.  Babies and kids drink the dirty water, get the trots, get weak, get disease, and too many die.
    2. Reduction of mosquito borne disease.  If the village had pigs before, the waste would just slop over into the fields near the pen, if a pen was even used.  In the villages where we’ve installed these systems I hope we’ll find a sharp drop in diseases like malaria and dengue fever.
    3. A free source of very good, virtually odorless, organic fertilizer from the overflow of the system.
    4. Once built and three or four pigs start doing their deal it takes about two weeks for the system to charge.  After that all you have do do is turn the valve and give it a spark.

The next few days we visited other villages to distribute the tools and blankets and install the water filter systems.  On the last day we returned to Ban Hoi Poo to check on the generator’s construction progress and to play some language games with the kids.  Following that we returned to Chiang Mai pleased with the knowledge that what we were doing was on the right track.

The day before we left Chiang Mai for the Lahu villages I received an e-mail from Rita, wife of Allan, founders of Kids Ark that Allan had died.  Silla told me about the ceremony they planned for Allan, the man who had done so much for them.  They would build a small house, about a yard square, out of bamboo, and inside they would put all the kids of things he would need in his next life – food, clothing and the like.  Then they would set it on fire and the smoke would carry it up to him in heaven.  Allan was a very special man and has affected the lives of many of us.

The next day Glenn, from the Croston House, drove to Chiang Mai to take us out to his orphanage.  It was a splendid day playing with the 21 kids and chatting with Glenn and his Thai wife Ros.  We made a donation of a new blanket for each of the kids and enough money to pay for the food and basic medical care for all of the children for about two and a half months.  One of our board members had the idea of getting the children to make drawings which would be turned into greeting cards and sold in the US.  Any money generated from that project would be turned over to the Croston House.  So part of our time there the children were busy with their drawings.  Wow !  I look forward to showing you what they did, somehow, maybe on the internet, down the road.

Presently they rent a large house for the children and most of the funding to run the orphanage comes from Glenn’s pension as a retired Bobby.  They have a dream of buying a plot of land and building some houses.  They can use volunteers, particularly in the months of April and early May when the children are on vacation.  I think it would be a great experience for anyone.  The kids are super, as are Glenn and Ros.
In two days, David returns to Hawaii.  In three days Kanna and Jenna head for Japan.  In four days I’ll be in eastern Burma.  We’ll all be back in Hawaii a month from now.  Tomorrow we’ll have a small dinner party for the staff at Kids Ark who have been so wonderful in helping us to get things done.

So, I guess enough is behind us now to declare this summer’s projects a grand success and a  great experience for us as well.  We took a few million pictures, and some movies too, so if you’d like to have a DVD just let David loeding@hawaii.edu know.  Thanks to all of you who have supported us in one way or another.  Even though we all pay our own way, without your help we couldn’t have done a fraction of the things we’ve done.  Wait till you hear about next year’s plans.  Please consider joining us.

Lahu children Lahu house

Lahu Children

Lahu House

Methane generator new medical clinic

Methane Generator

New Medical Clinic