World Children’s Day is celebrated on 20th November each year. First established in 1954 with help from the UN, the aim has always been to promote international togetherness and awareness of children’s welfare issues worldwide. It is a day around which many philanthropic causes can organise and focus their efforts to improve the living conditions of children around the world.
With this in mind, we thought this week would be an opportune time to provide an update for partners on one of our projects that is aimed at directly benefitting the lives of children in Laos. The project entails building a dormitory for high school students, and you can view the fundraising page here.
The Foundations – What We Do
Discova’s work with the Seuang River Community in Northern Laos goes back 12 years to 2008. As part of our longstanding commitment to work with communities, we now partner with 33 villages in the area to help alleviate and tackle the various challenges that they face.
Our Educational Travel team has consistently worked with community leaders to help fund various projects that mutually benefit the hosts and visiting parties. Over the years, we’re very proud to have taken part in upgrading and building multiple facilities, as well as the provision of free health check-ups and schemes like donating books to local kindergartens. As part of the reciprocal relationship, many travellers have enjoyed invaluable cultural exchanges involving cooking and crafting classes, dancing, trekking activities, and taking part in local ceremonies.
Education As a Building Block
The local community in Pak Xeng identified education as a pivotal factor in improving the lives of the inhabitants going forward. This ultimately led to the goal of improving the school facilities for the children of Pak Xeng so that they can go to school in comfort.
One area of concern was that many students live far away in the surrounding mountains, and so reside on campus during the school week. On school grounds, they have built small huts for accommodation – between 6 and 9m². These had become very crowded with schoolchildren, whose parents have to pay for the building materials and maintenance of the shelters. Furthermore, the huts become very cold in winter, flooded during the rainy season, and often are found to have been invaded by the local wildlife during the holidays! Such an environment, where school books need to be safely guarded and put up high to avoid damage from rainwater, is not the most ideal living arrangement to be conducive to learning.
With 118 huts onsite housing 365 students, the situation was deemed unsatisfactory for the students and something needed to be done. So, it was agreed that the building of a new dormitory for students would be a worthwhile and feasible project to embark upon.
Brick By Brick, Buck by Buck
The decision to undertake such a project is always a complex process: blueprints need to be drawn, documentation filled out, local suppliers organised, and, of course, donations need to be raised. Fortunately, we benefit from an incredibly dedicated team of individuals who work tirelessly in their causes, and we can also rely on the goodwill of plenty of our partners to engage with us on our projects to support local communities.
Thanks to the generosity of our partners, since its inception in 2008, our project in Laos has raised close to $350,000.
That’s why, in November of 2018, we were able to start building the dormitory for students, a structure that would cost more than $40,000 to build. The building work is still ongoing, though we are into the final stages of the plan as we look to finish off the upper structure and roof. Of course, as is natural, there have been a few stumbling blocks along the way. We spoke to Sayphet Soukhaphone, Operations Executive at DET Laos, to provide some more details of what’s been going on:
“I visited the site quite recently and spoke to the Principal of the school and the Head Carpenter for the project. The Principal is very pleased with the progress – he knows how much difficulty the students have been facing in their inadequate lodgings and is thrilled to be able to offer a better studying environment to his pupils. He’s just excited and eager for all the work to be finished!”
Here, Sayphet smiles ruefully at some of the problematic circumstances the project has faced, par for the course for construction work, but especially so in remote villages in Laos.
“There was an issue with water supply for the site, with the local water source not being enough to cater to the local villages as well as the construction site. So, the builders have had to pay for extra water just to mix the concrete! The carpenter has also had to build more electricity poles and extend the cables more than expected – an added cost that slowed down progress. However, all is on track now as all the beams of the upper structure are in place. We’re in the final stretch now!”
Without the help of travellers contributing to the workload, both literally and through contributions, the construction site has had to hire local builders to complete the job on schedule. It is for this reason that we are seeking to raise that little bit more funding to help us get over the line.
Sayphet explains that, as long as the current building schedule is adhered to, all construction should be finished by May.
This means that come the start of the new school year in September all students will be safely housed in their new dormitory, without having to clamber for space, and without having to worry about fire safety or staying warm either. It promises to be an exciting time for them and should pave the way for a much-improved studying environment. Though, of course, being pupils, there will always be excuses for not doing homework – but the students won’t be able to say the chickens ate it anymore!
Eyes on the Future
As already mentioned, Discova is proud of the projects we have participated in and proud of all the things we have accomplished so far. It’s been part of our founding DNA to give back to our communities, and we’re only just beginning in our efforts.
Speaking to Sayphet, he is eager for travel to restart so that he can continue to raise awareness and bring people to visit the Seuang River community, and to keep striving to help the villagers meet their needs. However, he is also on the lookout for new opportunities and new areas that need that helping hand.
As a result, we need to remind partners that there is always plenty going on at Discova that we will seek assistance with, whether in the form of donations, time or even creativity. To help us get over the line with this project, we invite you to have a look at our fundraising page and to keep an eye out for further opportunities to give back to our communities. What better time to help than on World Children’s Day!