“Off to Laos! I am really doing this!”, I enthused in a text to a friend en route to JFK for my around-the-world flight. I was headed to a remote province of Laos to provide local women with Clean Birth Kits (essential birthing supplies: picture instructions, absorbent sheet, soap, cord clamp, sterile blade that prevent infection) and training on safe, hygienic birthing practices.It took me 48 hours to get to Thailand, due to a delayed flight, and I was worse for the wear on arrival. En route from Thailand to Laos, my stomach hurt from travel-induced anxiety, malaria pills were causing another kind of digestive distress and I was sleep-deprived.
Plus, I didn’t really know where I was going: a cell phone number from my Lao partner organization, OVC, was my only information. Arriving in the Thai-Lao border town, Pakse, I obsessively dialed my contact for hours until she answered. Much to my relief, she picked me up and drove me from Pakse to Salavan, where OVC is based.
My first day in Salavan, I knew that the stress and discomfort of travel were well worth it. I saw immediately, that the directors of OVC, Nong and Nyai, were women that I could work with. They are efficient, hard-working, committed and generous. For more than 10 years, they have been providing medical, educational and agricultural support to ethnic minorities in this remote region. They believe in empowering the local people: seven of OVC’s staff of twelve live in the communities and are ethnic minorities themselves. (more…)