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Antimalarial Drug Resistance

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July 16, 2011

It’s been three days since I’ve been back to the IRD office in Gnommalath town.  I’m sticky with dried sweat and still a little groggy from waking up at 5am after going to sleep after midnight.  But, we needed to have enough time to leave Talong village in Boulapa District and arrive in Hainoua village, Mahaxay District, before everyone went to the fields for the day. READ MORE

Checking First Aid Kits

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July 14, 2011

The chief’s wife in Pah Panang village, Boualapa districtm clears away the dishes from dinner- steamed fish, fish soup, and sticky rice.  Night has fallen while were eating, and community members have quietly slipped in during the meal to join us on the floor.  Soukasien, the IRD Health Officer, and I are here to assess a small first aid program.

A little over a year ago, remote communities with limited access to even their local health clinic were chosen from the 150 communities that IRD currently serves.  A volunteer within each community was identified, provided a large first aid kit, and given a three day training to learn how to diagnose and treat common illnesses and injuries.  While the community volunteer was, of course, free to treat other community members, the priority was providing basic care to children attending school. READ MORE

A Hot Meal, a Shared Cup, and BANANAS!

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June 27, 2011 

“Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” -Romans 12:13

Chief“Make yourself at home.  You are like family!” said the chief of Pon Kam village.  I sat on a mat on the floor of the chief’s house eating a mango that an older woman had peeled and given to me.  I’d only met the chief an hour ago.  He didn’t even know my name yet, and he was telling me I was like family.  We laughed as we talked about the differences in Lao and American culture, and recited the names of different fruits in Lao, English, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, and French.  He found the English word, “banana” particularly funny.  He looked at his wife straight-faced, then blurted out “BANANA!”, and burst into unrestrained laughter.  The plates of jackfruit and pineapple that surrounded me came from his trees.  The chief went and picked them himself, and proudly presented them as part of the feast that we shared that evening in his home with about 15 other villagers.  READ MORE

Miracles, Better Vision, and Better Life

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June 13, 2011

Pheangma and his grandmother, Chone

On a sunny afternoon, a 4-year-old boy donned in a green action figure t-shirt jumps around laughing and playing with his brother and friends. There’s nothing unusual about the scene. Lao children all over the country are doing the exact same thing on this particularly beautiful, hot and humid Thursday afternoon. For Pheangma, though, this mundane act is a miracle.

“Before Pheangma got his glasses we worried about him all the time. He couldn’t see anything more than a meter in front of his face. Our house is close to the road, and we constantly worried about him being hit by a car,” said Chone, Pheangma’s grandmother. She looked down at the piece of straw she was twiddling with her fingers as she spoke, remembering the constant anxiety she felt before Pheangma received his glasses. READ MORE

Not a Job, but a Way of Life

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June 7, 2011


Today I was really touched by one of our IRD staff. He’s the project manager for the Safe Educational Opportunities program, Sausavanh. The thing is, he did nothing particularly special today. In fact, he did pretty much what he does every day. Sausavanh didn’t save a drowning child, rescue a cat from a tree, or make the winning touchdown. Instead, he met with a few people, picked us up from the market, and generally just did his job.

Out of everyone in our office (maybe even including Heather and me), Sausavanh has the best English. Unlike others, he has the language capabilities to communicate fully with Heather and me. If he wanted, he could bring us into his office every morning and tell us about the impact he has made throughout his career in development. He could tell us how he has worked with IRD from the beginning, when IRD came to Laos, and how he has stuck with them the entire way. He could tell us about villages that now have access to clean water, children who no longer go hungry during the school day, and mothers and fathers whose daughters now come home smiling after school. He could tell us of villages transformed, schools rehabilitated, and lives changed because of his work. He could tell us of all these things, and I assure you they are true. READ MORE

Better Vision for Better Life

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June 1, 2011

During a training of district level health and education administrators in Thakek, Khammoune province, Dr. Sambath Darasouk, the province’s only opthamologist, explains the two visual acuity charts used for eye health screening.

Once again Peggy Jean and I were attending a training session for the Better Vision for Better Life (BVBL) project. Overall, the project has met a need for eye screening and care at the village level in Khammoune province, as well as built capacity for screening from the teachers and village health workers (VHWs) at the community level all the way up to administrators at the district level. Also, the project provided needed ophthalmology equipment at the provincial level.

At the beginning of the week, we made it for the second, and last, day of a refresher course for clinicians working at health centers in Xiaboutong district. After over an hour on a dirt road, we arrived at the rather impressive district office where the training was held. Over thirty men and women filled the front of a large conference hall. All were prepared for the last few hours of the program with IRD-produced eye health manuals and paper and pen ready to jot down important notes. All participants were quietly attentive, listening as Dr. Sambath Darasouk, the only ophthalmologist for Khammoune province, reviewed common eye diseases. READ MORE

Documenting a school food program: You live and learn…Lao!

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June 1, 2011

Before receiving her last take-home ration, a primary school girl signs her name with a fingerprint.

As part of my work here in Laos, I’m filming some of IRD’s programs and interviewing some beneficiaries. This means I get to walk around filming and talking to folks, which is great.

When I first arrived in Laos, I was told the children were out of school for the summer. I was disappointed, since IRD’s Safe Educational Opportunities (SEO) is all about transforming the lives of children through improved school environments, health education, mid-day snacks, take-home rations, and school gardens. The summer break would make it nearly impossible for me to capture SEO in action among the children. On Monday, I received good news. The last distribution of take-home rations for the school year at a school in Sai Buatong district would take place on Tuesday. I would get the footage I needed after all!

Yesterday morning, we left early for Sai Buatong district. When we pulled up to the school, the students were already lining up waiting for the distribution to begin. At least 100 students came to the school dressed in their school uniforms on a day when school was not in session to receive their take-home rations consisting of four bags of rice and a bag of black beans. The female students are given two cans of salmon in addition to the rice and beans. READ MORE

Community Health Laos

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May 26, 2011

The IRD Health Promotion Coordinator, Nouhak, begins the first community health education meeting in Dong Na Kham village, Xiaboutong district. The table in front of her is loaded with health promotion posters and prizes of toothbrushes, sponges, and soap.

For the last hour or so, we’ve bounced along the pitted dirt road, not touched by the thick humidity outside our heavily air-conditioned IRD vehicle. We’re on our way back from Dong Na Kham village, a small community of only 30 or so households about 80km from the field office in Gnomalat. Today was the first community health promotion meeting in this village. Although we left the office a little after 2pm, the meeting didn’t start until dusk around 6pm. It was enough time to allow men to finish in the fields and children to gather, as IRD staff connected the projector and speakers to the generator. While waiting for the rest of the community to gather, the health officer set up health education posters along the edge of the clearing to introduce the topics to be covered: hygiene, sanitation, and nutrition. As soon as each new poster went up, children eagerly crowded around. It was exciting to see the children’s interest. READ MORE

Community Health Education

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Peggy Jean Craig

Peggy Jean Craig

This was our first week to go out to the field. On Thursday afternoon, Heather, the other Emory intern, and I rode with three other IRD staff out to Dongnakham village in Sai Buatong district, Laos, where IRD was conducting a community health education training for the first time. The trainings cover information about hygiene, nutrition, and sanitation. The village is about an hour away from the IRD office in Gnomolat, with about half of the journey on a dirt road.

As we pulled up to the house we would use to conduct the training, the first thing I noticed was all of the children playing under the house. Lao houses in the low and middle lands are built on stilts off of the ground so they won’t flood during rainy season. The space below the house is used to park motorbikes, hang hammocks, or serve as a place for kids to play – all three of which were happening simultaneously here. READ MORE