by Mariane Wray
Those of you who have been to Luang Prubang before know that it is a UNESCO World Heritage area on the banks of the Mekong River, with many beautiful temples and the ritual giving of alms to the monks every morning. It is well worth a visit. This time, my second visit to Luang Prubang, co-ordinated a holiday with an opportunity to assist the local population, whilst participating in an international event that allowed me to experience the local culture and people?
Recently, six girlfriends and I travelled to Luang Prubang in Laos to compete in ‘La Procession’, the third annual Half Marathon. 21.2kms is the longest distance on offer in this event, but other options are 7km or 14km individual, or a three person team with each team member completing one 7km lap each.
The course was three laps of a 7km loop around the historical centre, and it was beautiful. The locals and race volunteers were all out in force, and provided excellent support and morale throughout the race. Local kids from one of the schools waved flags and cheered runners on throughout the race, and were more of a highlight than the amazing scenery, international field, and numerous water stops.
The event this year was held on October 16th. Entry fees were high - over $100 USD - but the event does away with traditional Asian race niceties, such as prize giving and medals for all finishers. Even the organising committee and race day helpers all complete the tasks voluntarily, and all the funds raised are spread across local causes that benefit local people. This year, funds raised were distributed across the three agencies below, all of which work in youth health and education;
Friends Without a Border, and the Lao Friends Hospital for Children:
Friends Without A Border (Friends) is a not-for-profit organisation based in New York City, and is committed to providing high-quality and compassionate healthcare to the children of Southeast Asia. In 1999, Friends built and opened the Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC) in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and in the spring of 2015, opened Lao Friends Hospital for Children (LFHC).
Eau Laos Solidarité (ELS) & the Girls’ Hygiene Empowerment Project:
Eau Laos Solidarité (ELS) is a grassroots organization that supports hygiene projects in Laos schools. Although the school curriculum in Laos includes reproductive health, teachers are too shy to cover the topic and there are no teaching aids. Menstruation is not discussed, and girls report fear at their first period and poor basic hygiene thereafter. Due to lack of awareness, the absence of coherent information and poor infrastructures, girls struggle to study during these times and may miss school.
The ELS Girls’ Hygiene Empowerment Project is training female puberty educators to conduct Girl Workshops at schools. An informed girl improves her health, participates in her community and contributes to her country’s development confidently.
Big Brother Mouse:
Big Brother Mouse was established in 2006 and is a Lao-based, Lao-owned project that . Since 2006, we've been publishing "books that make literacy fun!"
Until now, few books were published in the Lao Language. Many people in Lao villages never saw a book. Big Brother Mouse is not just a publisher. They assist young people as they learn new skills: writing, editing, translating, computer use, and organising events. Big Brother Mouse is also developing effective new ways to distribute books in a country where currently, there's no system that supports this.
For more information on any of these worthwhile causes and ways to donate, you can check out the websites below. Alternatively, you could find a local agency that requires assistance, and make a difference in your own local community.
Lao Friends Hospital for Children: www.fwab.org
Eau Laos Solidarité: www.eaulaos.org (in French)
Big Brother Mouse Literacy Programme: www.BigBrotherMouse.com
What are you waiting for? Get out and find a cause that makes you feel great, gives you new experiences and helps others along the way!