A boat to go
Each Lao village normally has a primary school. Although most of these schools only have a few books and little school material, children have a chance to learn a minimum. But things become more complicated when children must go to secondary school (when they are about 11).
Secondary schools are often very far away from the villages and children must walk, bike on dangerous roads or take a boat, which is expensive and which many of them can’t afford.
As schools are far away, the students stay all the week in the village where they go to secondary school and they in small dormitories. But this too is expensive.
As a result, many children give up school at the end of primary school and stay in their village, looking after the small children or helping in rice fields.
Jom is a young man who is 30. He was born in Ban Hoy Han village and used to go to the secondary school in a village which is one hour away from his village by boat. After secondary school he decided to go to Vientiane to study.
There he worked to finance his studies. Eventually he got his diploma and found a good job. However he came back to his village to help his family. Jom is very much committed for his village and works in an “eco resort”. Although he is very busy, he takes the children to school every Monday and picks them up there on Fridays.
For this, he uses his own small boat which is 5 meters long. So he needs five return trips to bring all the children. The only thing he asks for is a little money from the family to pay for the petrol.
ASAS had already met Jom as they were at his village for a donation. He explained us his project. He wanted a bigger boat which would allow him to take all the children together. Moreover he could them save petrol, time and energy.
We then began to look for the boat which was to be a “school boat”. We were lucky and found a second hand boat at an unbeatable price. Of course some works were to be done such as painting and some repairs inside but the most important – the engine and the hull – was in good working order. We then chose to bring it to the village, three hours away from Luang Prabang.
According to a Lao saying, you always know the time you leave, but you never know the time you will arrive. We experienced it with a big fright. Suddenly the engine began to smoke.
The boat was fighting against the whimsical stream of the Mekong River, we felt as a dead leaf on a rough sea and we were heading towards the barrier of rocks in the middle of the river. We quickly put on our life jackets and wove, hoping to be seen from others. Five minutes later a small fisher boat came towards us. We then recognized a man and his child whom we had brought to hospital 5 months earlier.
Things don’t happen by chance!!! The man came along our boat and with full power tried to slow it down in order to soften the blow. When we arrived near the rocks we softened the blow with bamboo poles. We eventually stopped.
More fear than pain! Our rescuers then organized what was to be done.
We soon saw a bigger boat coming which dragged us to the next village which happened to be a village where they construct boats. We left our boat there to be repaired and easily found a boat to go back.
Repairing the boat
Two weeks later the engine was repaired and the list of the inside works done. We then bought what was needed and brought everything to the village. The villagers made the necessary work.
We also added about thirty life jackets so that the children can travel safely. Two weeks later, the “brand new” boat was ready for a second youth. We only had to put benches.
In the middle of February, ASAS went to the village to see the work. We spent a night there because you can’t make a return trip in one day. In this little village we were moved, as we always are, by the kindness of the inhabitants.
In spite of the simplicity of the house, we were welcome in our captain’s family as if we were in a five star hotel. At dawn we left the village with 35 students on board of this boat which really looks fine.
Much emotion on that day when we realized what can be done with a letter, a courageous man who wants to help his own community and the support of ASAS which couldn’t exist without you.