Monday, October 22, 2012


Enough about failures! Here's a post about success. 

After travelling through Vietnam for an entire month and never spending more than 3 days in any one place, I decided I needed to find a place to stay. I saw Vietnam... I saw a LOT of Vietnam. But my constant motion made it impossible to get a hold on the culture, the people, the daily life of the Vietnamese (with the exception of Van and the Luu family... miss you guys!). I felt very... distant... from the real Vietnam. Don't get me wrong, I loved it. Vietnam is awesome and I would recommend travelling there to anyone who likes food and fun. I blame it on Mongolia, my thirst to experience culture first-hand, that is. As I moved into Laos, I abandoned my plan, which was to wear out my visa and see as much as Laos as possible. I chose to stay, and watch, and participate, and do what I do best: volunteer. 

Project Kajsiab! 

This little excerpt was written by a  fellow volunteer, Alec, who is one talented man with a pen in hand:

Early in the year of 2004 Nzoua Vue’s family was beset by tragedy. His beloved sister, Kajsiab, died a preventable death due a minor infection and inadequate health care. She was thirteen years old. Sadly, this grievous loss is not an unusual story in many parts of Laos today. Indeed, rather than being a stand-alone case, the loss of Kajsiab to a curable case of appendicitis is instead an indication of the myriad problems that continue to afflict many rural villages of Laos in the 21st century: food shortages, no access to clean drinking water or sanitation, limited or no access to healthcare and no reliable source of income.
It was with the intimate knowledge of these problems and the memory of his beloved sister that Nzoua and his Dutch wife, Lara Picavet, formed the non-profit socially minded company, Kajsiab.
Kajsiab means: a flower that blooms, a heart that opens, a love that suddenly springs. It is the name of a beloved sister who died at the age of thirteen as a result of a minor infection that could have been easily cured with access to basic healthcare.
The rest of the article can be found here.
Basically, women's empowerment is the name of the game! The Daauw House, the main hub of Project Kajsiab, functions as a restaurant, guesthouse, bar that helps earn income for the project. It's main purpose, however, is a shelter for the local mountain people, for whatever reason they may seek it. All this happens under the same roof, making the Daauw House less like a restaurant and more like a living room. 

Not to mention this place is swarming with children. 

For more stupidly adorable pictures of the many children inhabitants of the Daauw House, check out my flicker page

A note on Lara Picavet and Nzoua Vue, the heart and soul behind this organization. Lara, originally from Holland,  visited Laos 10 years and never left. She fell in love with the forest, the people, and most importantly, Nzoua (recall, it's was Nzoua's sister, Kajsiab, that gave life to all this). Now, they have three beautiful half Dutch, half H'Mong children and live with in the Daauw House with the guests, the volunteers, and the mountain people.

The world could use more people like Lara and Nzoua. Their passion is infectious and their goals are focused. They have the unique perspective to see issues from both outside and inside the culture which is their greatest strength. And the best part of ALL this, is how unbelievably successful they have been.

Just in my two weeks there, I witnessed the first day of school for 2 girls, ages 8 and 11, whose previous years were spent raising their younger siblings while their brothers attended school and their parents worked. I saw a young pregnant woman communicate to her husband what she wants and expects. I saw Nzoua counsel a group of young men on how better treat their wives and children. And I saw Zjong, who has lived more life in her short 21 years than anyone should have to, burst into tears of happiness when some customers left a tip for Project Kajsiab, claiming she'd "never thought there'd be a day like today."

There is much that still needs to be done, though. And some of that stuff I got to help with! Like, clearing the land for base 2, which will be a health clinic, organic farm, and another safe-house:

As if Laos wasn't hot enough. Oh, meet Martha and Alec!
Buying handicrafts from a local woman
Painting signs for the Home (or rather taking a break while the children hijack all my supplies)
Visiting villages to buy wood
Harvesting Rice! (I mean, taking a watermelon break... check out that awesome knife in her hand! That's what we cut the rice with)
And here are some other pictures worth sharing, but have nothing to do with work and have more to do with fun. 
Carnival! Which really consisted of this game and the "throw darts at balloons" game. Oh, and Bingo! And a bouncy house!

Along with a billion cute kiddies, there were 2 cute kitties. 

And if we got injured or bit by some unknown critter, Nzoua's mother, the local medicine woman, came to our aid!
Kittie numbero 2. 
Perhaps the best picture to describe the Daauw Home. The restaurant offers a menu to choose your own meal or, even better, you can eat with the local people staying at the shelter. Just like a big family. [Sidenote: Holy shoot, H'Mong food is so good and spicy]
I stayed in a bungalow and here is my bed. 
Traditional home in one of the H'Mong villages.
Another night of carnival fun. This is the look a husband gives his wife after losing all the money she gave him. 

Genius. Would this work on the streets in Chicago? I found my future calling...
Ayla, Bow, and Iniya. The two on the ends are Lara and Nzoua's kids. Bow is Nzoua's sister and these two girls' aunt. This is their first day of school!
Zjong. One of the most amazing women I've ever met. She is proof that Project Kajsiab is on the right track. 

This is Pe. Her story is also riddled with sadness. Her husband is currently in jail and her husband's family abuses her. She took her son, 11 months, and came to stay at the Daauw home until her husband returns. She is 17 years old. But as the days went on, Pe opened up more and more. Turns out, she's a mischievous little prankster with a lot of life and love to share. 
 OH! And then it was my birthday! So keeping in tradition of "how to spend birthdays abroad," we slaughtered an animal and drank a lot of beer:

Aaaaand I'm a vegetarian again. Sorry buddy!
At least there was no hammer involved in killing this guy (Mongolian goats aren't so lucky)
 All of a sudden, the small quiet road the Daauw House overlooks was filled with people. Lara had invited Nzoua's entire village to celebrate my birthday with me!!

Whew.  You wouldn't believe how many more pictures I have. Well, actually maybe you would. I will post them on flicker as soon as I can, but I feel like my iced coffee doesn't cover the 3 hours of free wifi I've just siphoned. So, I'm going to boogie.

Here's a bunch of information on Project Kajsiab. If you care to help, which I highly suggest you do [I truly believe this is aid at it's best. Grassroot to the core and completely in line with the wants and needs of the people they serve], you can give to the Project itself, as they are looking for sponsors currently (though they intend to be completely self-sustaining in the future) OR you can sponsor the education of one of the mountain girls! Chiggity-check it out:

Facebook - Project Kajsiab
Youtube - Info on Project Kajsiab
Lara Picavet:

Peace, love, and empowerment!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds amazing! I'm glad you found such a great volunteer opportunity! Especially with the war on women going on over here...glad you're involved with women empowerment over there!! keep updating!