Tuesday, January 30, 2007

GAPE International and Enfants du Mekong

February 1

Today we met with the director of Enfants du Mekong, Benoit, based in Bangkok, to learn from him and see if there was some way we might collaborate our efforts. They are a respected and well-established organization, based in France, that has been helping children in this region for over a decade. They have an unusual approach, in that they use almost all volunteers to oversee their projects, and these volunteers raise their own money for this honour. They provide scholarships for children and also help with schools and some community projects along the Mekong River. A lot of their work is in Cambodia, but they are also working in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The main challenge, Benoit told us, was finding leadership--because their operation basically just funds local leaders with unique project ideas. This requires them to find highly competent local people to work with on the ground, because they are giving them money directly to run the projects. Quite a leap of faith! But they have a number of successful projects that attest to its value.

Happily we discovered that not only did we find Benoit's passion and love of helping children inspiring, we also discovered that we can help each other going forward. Their organization needs to find local leaders with the ideas and capacity to run strong education-based projects. Meanwhile, with our kindergarten school project going into its second phase now, capacity building (after its first, very successful phase, providing resources) Jai Dee Children's Fund is both building leadership in Laos at the teaching level and also we are personally searching out leadership at all levels of education, by constantly talking to people on the ground and learning all we can. So when we find great leaders with great project ideas in Laos who need more financial support than we can provide (likely with our current limited budget), then we can direct them to Enfants du Mekong! Very exciting stuff. More and more it is becoming clear that the way to make a difference is as part of a collaborative effort where we all work together toward the same cause--helping children.

January 29

We caught a tuk tuk to the office of GAPE International on the outskirts of Pakse where we met with Ian Baird, a founder and director of the organization. He's been working in Laos for over a decade, many of those years around Khong island, with projects related to the environment, education and retaining local culture. He had a wealth of information to share, so we were fortunate to have caught up with him. We are partnering with him in a small but exciting way—he has professionally recorded four CDs of traditional Lao music, stuff that you just can’t find anywhere else and is quickly disappearing here. We’re going to bring some CDs back with us to Canada to sell. The music is beautiful. Sales proceeds will support his projects, as well as ours, and still be much cheaper than your average CD in Canada ($10). So let us know if you’re interested!

We also met with the head of one of GAPE’s partner projects. Ramsey is creating a non-formal vocational style school in a village on a mountain near Pakse that will mostly serve the young adults of a minority ethnic hilltribe group who have otherwise very little education. It will teach resourcefulness and creative thinking, as well as handicraft trades such as weaving and soap making.

Our approach to helping others includes connecting and partnering with as many people as possible who already have a successful track record of working with people in development. We believe that the best way to make a lasting difference is as part of network, continously learning and growing in a flexible way.

Shawn & Thanou


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Chris said...

Hey Deth / Shawn,

We're keeping tabs here...looks like a busy trip! Great stuff.

Not to make you think of returning...but what's your arrival date back in Canada?

We miss you. (NLPDP #@&*@)