Our Club has been active in building and renovating schools in the Luang Prabang district in northern Laos since 2012.  Our initial contact was through Rod Fraser and his “Your Own2Hands” Foundation.  Rod set up our on-going relationship with Somnuek Bounsa and his wife, Sisimone who operate a resort in Luang Prabang.  Somnuek has proved to be a great communicator, project manager, builder and friend.  As at mid-2020, our club, through Somnuek, has built five schools in scattered communities around the district.

The latest school, Ban Houay Tan was built during 2017 and 2018.  The location broke new ground for us, being on the west side of the Mekong River, a fairly remote, mountainous and sparsely populated region.  All materials – cement, sand, bricks, steel etc had to be ferried across the Mekong – which can be quite an exercise in the rainy season.  But our earlier visit had shown a very worthwhile project in a pretty (and isolated) village – a village established by government to bring people down from the mountains where the practice of slash and burn farming was causing environmental problems.  The villagers were very supportive of our plan to replace the existing bamboo and timber school structure with a “standard government” structure of concrete, bricks and steel and to add a toilet block with wash basins.

Construction was completed in late 2018 and the opening ceremony took place on 5th December with enthusiastic attendance by locals, including very colourful and attractive dancers. Also in attendance was District Governor Bronwyn Stephens, the Rotarian responsible for establishing World of Difference. This program is a District 9800 initiative initially targeting worthy causes in Cambodia, but which through the efforts of 2018-2020 Club International Chair, Rob Hines, has grown to include Laos and helped support the Ban Houay Tan school project.

In addition to the funds provided for the project by World of Difference and by our own club, we received generous support from John Karagounis at CEO Circle and the Australian Government through its embassy in Vientiane.

 
 
 

Our next project, planned for 2020 but now on hold until we get through the COVID-19 pandemic, is a library and incorporated computer room at Xieng Ngeun Secondary School, about 25km south of Luang Prabang.  Xieng Ngeun is quite a large town of about 22,000 population – hence the location for a secondary school.  The school itself is large and quite well laid out and built but has only the most rudimentary of library and computer facilities.  The school was visited in January 2020 and a location within the school grounds selected that was secure but would allow community access.

We are at present awaiting detailed planning and budgeting for the project, but it is expected that this and of course progression of the whole project will not happen for several months yet – perhaps not in the 2020-21 Rotary year.