Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.
When our program staff arrived in Kass, they were eager to get started. Their enthusiasm was a good thing, too, because our mandate was to set up these programs as quickly as possible. Even before my husband and I were hired, our organization was already behind in using their relief funds and the donors were getting anxious to see some results. So in order to decide which projects to begin with and where, we quickly set out to survey the IDP camps with our new team.
Throughout the town there were a total of 16 different camps scattered about. On our first day, we walked through two camps and talked to Sheikhs (village leaders) and the staff of another NGO who was distributing relief food. These two camps in particular were tightly populated since they were right in the middle of town where IDPs had set up camp on school compounds. We surveyed camp conditions for the availability and location of fresh water pumps, latrines, shower stations, and how clean the camp was kept. Hygiene was a big concern. Even though many agencies had conducted health/hygiene training and clean water/sanitation programs, children still defecated outside of the toilets, water still didn’t drain properly, and garbage still stood in rotting heaps everywhere.
On the more positive side, we found that the IDP’s homes seemed tidy and well maintained. Working in IDP camps, it is good practice to take note of unkempt homes because it is a sign that the IDP family may not be coping well for one reason or another which may be cause for greater concern if it was prevalent throughout the camp. I was actually most surprised to find in the smallest ofo IDP houses, some families were trying to grow tomatoes out of plastic bags. One home even had small papaya trees. Encouraging.
After completing a survey of all the camps and coordinating our plan with other NGO’s, we decided that the biggest immediate need (and a quick output to satisfy our donor) was to rehabilitate latrines (glamorous, huh?). Good hygiene begins with having nice, clean environments. If latrines are not appealing, people prefer using anywhere else they find more suitable, which may not be the most hygienic location given a densely populated IDP camp setting. In addition, latrines that no longer have privacy shields post a security risk for women and children in the camp, particularly at night. For these reasons, we quickly ordered supplies of wooden poles, plastic sheets and twine, gathered tools, and mobilized each camp community to pitch in along side our staff to rehabilitate their latrines. I don’t have the exact stats to tell you how many we rehabilitated but I am certain that it was in the high hundreds by the time we left six months later.
This was a relatively easy and simple program to accomplish within a short amount of time. It was a good introduction for us into the camp where we gained the trust and goodwill of the Sheikhs and community members which was essential for implementing future projects.
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