Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an average annual income of only $900. During the Vietnam war, American planes dropped 260 million cluster bombs on Laos. 75 million bombs failed to detonate and remain today, rendering much of the agricultural land unsuitable for farming.
On the outskirts of the world heritage site of Luang Prabang is the Deak Kum Pa orphanage that provides housing, food, health related assistance, and education for nearly 550 students. These children are orphaned due to the death of their parents resulting from trauma, infection, childbirth and lack of medical care. The average life expectancy in Laos is 48 years. Other children are abandoned, as their families are too poor to care for them. While the government of Laos provides $20 per child per month, this is not enough to meet their basic needs.
Fortunately for these children, Andrew moved to Luang Prabang in 2007 to operate a small hotel. This is Andrew's story:
When I opened my hotel in 2007, I sent my staff out to find a worthwhile project to support. After a frustrating wait, finally one of my staff told me about the orphanage school on the outskirts of Luang Prabang. When I visited, I saw the crowded accommodation for 390 kids. The food they ate was 2 bowls of cabbage soup per day and nothing else. The children were tiny, having never had a suitable diet for healthy growth. The toilets were disgusting with no taps or hand basins, let alone soap and there was no clean water or medical support. I was compelled to help.
I started buying bread for each child twice per week. In the hotel, I placed a small overview in reception and started talking to guests about improving the quality of life for these children. Many guests were quite moved and I would often visit the orphanage with guests so they could fully understand the difficulties of living in the orphanage. Within a year I was buying bread for each child every day, I had installed handbasins , tiled most toilets and started giving out soap every 3 weeks. The most obvious concern was medical support and children were often taken to hospital as a last resort. I now pay for all hospitalizations and encourage them to send all children if they are in any doubt about their health.
At the end of the second year, the numbers had swelled to 490 children and I had been striving to attain funds for a new dormitory. Fortunately through the generosity of some guests, and along with my own funds we finally had enough money to build the new dormitory. This sleeps about 50 children.
A year later I built a second dormitory and 2 new toilet blocks to help ease conditions as the numbers grew to 554 children. I have managed to maintain breakfast every day, fruit 6 times per week , 1650 eggs per week and extra meat to help with the children’s iron and protein intake. We now have filtered water for the children to drink, along with soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes at regular intervals. Last year I arranged scholarships for each of the 31 final year students and this year we helped over 40 final year students into scholarships and jobs
I met with the government in April last year to discuss bringing more children to the orphanage. The agreement is that when I build a new school and pay for every child above the 554 children already there, then I can bring in up to 120 children. The school is now finished and 30 new children have arrived and been clothed under this program. After investigating many children’s backgrounds, we then began a village support project for poor families in villages near Luang Prabang.
The most difficult situation I found in the villages that we support was a single mother that had lost her husband just 3 weeks before. She had 3 young children and lived in a shack no bigger than a small bathroom. The floor was dirt with see through walls and an iron roof full of holes Her children were all sick and she had just a handfull of rice and nothing else, no money at all. We were very lucky that we found her that day, we gave her $10 and took the kids to hospital and put her into our village family program where we give eggs and rice regularly and, most importantly, La's phone number if she needed help. She is now in a new job and her kids are doing well and going to school. ,
There are many heartening stories from the orphanage but it is a truly happy place with hundreds of happy, smiling faces that seldom reflect on their difficult and often lonely lives. Instead, they wake up every day grateful for what each day will offer. Working with these children to improve their lives is reward in itself, and I am forever grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.