Thursday, 28 January 2016

Griffith Group B – Reflecting on A Life-Changing Trip

PROJECT: Nursing – Griffith University
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Bell
As our time in Luang Prabang comes to a close, and we start the bumpy return journey to the Seuang Valley, I cannot help but think of how far we have all come. The initial trepidations we all felt have long since gone, replaced by a sense of achievement; we are making a difference here. Looking around at the detritus it is clear Laos has a long way to go in terms of basic sanitation. However with each volunteer group that visits – nurses, doctors, or engineers – it improves just that little bit as we work with locals to assist with sustainable solutions.

The road from Luang Prabang to the Seuang Valley now has several sections of paved road. We arrive at our new base station, dinner is to be served at the White House, rice of course, noodles and some vegetables.

Day 9: Monday

We head to Ban Sopur, a village established in the 1975 when the road finally reached the area and comprised of 84 families or 435 people. The chief of the village gave a heartfelt speech welcoming us to the village and thanking us for the healthcare that we provide; a blessing ceremony was to follow. I am by no means religious but the act was touching because they honestly believed and chanted well wishes whilst tying sections of cord around our wrists. Despite battling fatigue after a long day, we are to be welcomed to our base village.

Dancing and frivolity ensured. It is also clear why people choose to live out here; they are as one family. Picture if you can a family barbecue, but only with 400 members and everyone joins in to sing a spontaneous ballard or start a random dance; yes we are financially better off but surely they are richer in community spirit; it is little wonder they don't want to leave. On a side note people, kababs are out here, cooked rat on a stick is in.

Day 11: Wednesday

We travel to another medium village with many more families in need. The things that we take for granted such as basic analgesia comes to these people maybe twice a year in some cases. We will see about 84 people with varying conditions, two boys from one family both with cognitive impairments also had congenital cataracts in both eyes. We were eager to help in whatever way we could and unanimously elected to use a portion of the donated funds to sponsor the both boys for cataract surgery; the cost? A paltry one hundred dollars per eye.

Day 12: Thursday

Before heading out to the village our waiting group is approached by a young mother enquiring for her daughter. It would seem where Australian children push Lego in noses and ears, Lao children lodge rice grains, and in this case the result was a girl with a sore ear. Unfortunately for them we could not solve her issue as there was the risk of puncturing her drum, but we will sponsor her to be treated at the local hospital.

Day 13: Friday

Today begins with weaving lessons, and it's safe to say that I have a newfound appreciation of their craft. They spend up to a week making a scarf depending on the complexity, something that might only fetch US$50 on the market. We all have a try and some find a natural rhythm with the machine others appear in constant battle. As we leave for the next station the weavers set about unpicking the mess we made halfway through their scarf.

Next station is master chef, Laos edition and it's safe to say that if I had seen the kitchen and wasn't preparing the meal myself I would be reticent to eat it. No one will ever complain about cooking space or conditions again; they really make do with a bare dirt floor, dull knives, and a stove that is akin to a camping fireplace where to turn up the heat you push the wood in a little bit further. We all manage excellent dishes and have learnt some Lao cooking (even those who just made sticky rice...well maybe) and survived without having to break into the stash of Buscopan just yet.

All fed and eager for rafting we travel by truck to the next village and the awaiting rafts. There we split into groups of three and board our makeshift vessels. The local Lao men who control the rafts have a sense of humour it seems and took great pleasure on rocking the rafts from side to side when you least expected it. It also goes without saying that there was a race amongst the rafts, many pushing the limits of pole pushing endurance. Rapids got the heart beating a little faster but in the end we all ended up floating down the river off the rafts by choice; well some needed a little group motivation perhaps. A perfect way to end the working week and to start the wind down; the countryside was truly magnificent and I wish you could see it through my eyes as I did.

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