Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an average income of $900 per year. During the Vietnam war, American planes dropped 260 million cluster bombs on Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country in history. Many of these bombs did not detonate and still remain, resulting in much of the land base not available for agriculture. The average life expectancy is 47 years, leaving many children with no parents. Other family members take these children to orphanages as a way for them to obtain food and shelter. Most arrive with nothing other than the clothes they are wearing. The government of Laos contributes only $20 per month per child to the orphanages, leaving many of their basic needs unmet.
The give a shirt society received charitable status this year! We successfully delivered the contents of a container to two orphanages and several villages in March. We are currently collecting donations to fill another container.
A team of 16 delivered the contents of two sea cans to 3 orphanages and several villages. We also donated funds to construct a new kitchen at the Numbuk orphanage in northern Laos.
And we did go back, this time with a team of 14 friends and a SeaCan filled with over 30,000 items of clothing and blankets, gathered from across western Canada. The SeaCan and $5,000 was donated for the shipping. Our team met the SeaCan in Luang Prabang in March and over the next seven days we delivered the contents to three orphanages and villages with more than 2,000 children. We worked in the heat and dust, loading and unloading boxes and sorting clothing for distribution. There were no complaints from our team though as we took in the living conditions of the children. The number of children was overwhelming, they lined up and streamed in from adjacent villages. In Num Buk, Andrew toured us through dorms with no lighting and no ventilation. We saw the kitchen area where rice was being cooked over an open fire in a barrel and the small bucket of meat (mostly fat and gristle) to somehow feed 600 children. Andrew interpreted the conversations of a group of girls, where we learned that they do not have basic necessities like underwear and supplies for menstruation. We left for the long drive back to Luang Prabang feeling exuberant over what we had accomplished and simultaneously overwhelmed by how much more was needed. In Suan Luang, we learned that the teachers turn the water off for most of the day, as the less money that is spent on water, the more money the teacher's earn. Andrew showed us a small concrete tub, out in the open, meant to be the washing facility for the boys. At that moment we decided that the funds raised for this trip would build two new shower facilities and a well so the children could have privacy and unlimited access to water for drinking, showers and toilets. Andrew shared with us that he had recently sold his small hotel and would now be working full time for the children and villages of Laos. While at first he may have been skeptical about the arrival of the 14 Canadians, he soon realized we were there to work, and not for play.. and during our final evening dinner he indicated we would be most welcome to return again with more.... and so we are...
With the cooperation of Graminia school were were able to fill 6 hockey bags with clothing, containing about 1,200 items. We also collected $4,000 in donations which was matched by corporate sponsorship and was used to build a new bathroom for the boys at Deak Kum Pa.
Upon our arrival in Laos, we met Andrew. He is the reason all of this works, he has dedicated his life to helping the children of Laos have a better life. Andrew took us to the orphanage school and gave us a tour. The children sleep in dorm buildings, about 50 to a building, on plywood with one blanket to stay warm. They have adequate nutrition now that Andrew supplements their diet. He built new dorm rooms, wash room facilities and provided the children with school supplies. He also arranges for and pays for medical and dental treatment and supplies soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes.
When we were at last able to hand out the clothing, all the children lined up and patiently waited. The older children stood at the back and nudged the youngest and smallest children to the front. It was that moment that I will not forget. With each piece of clothing we gave, each child would bring their hands together in front of their heart and nod “Khwap Jai” which is Thank You. It was an absolute privilege and honor to participate and yet I left feeling like we had done so little, and I knew I would return again.