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Laos: a road out of the wilderness with WFP's help

The Hmong people live without running water and electricity in the isolated hills of Laos. WFP intern Anke Kampshreur went to see a road project which is paving the way to the outside world.

The Hmong people live without running water and electricity in the isolated hills of Laos. WFP intern Anke Kampshreur went to see a road project which is paving the way to the outside world.

The contrast between Luang Prabang city and Phoukhang village, both in Laos, couldn’t be more striking. Luang Prabang caters for tourists with its restaurants, internet cafes and boutiques. Phoukhang, on the other hand, doesn’t even have running water or electricity.

We can start to build a school so our children have more opportunities for the future

Village chief

Few visitors ever see the Hmong people, who live in bamboo huts in the hills. Comprising 52 households and having their own language, the Hmongs are the biggest ethnic group in the country.

It is a one-hour walk through the forest from the nearest village to Phoukang. The settlement does not have a health centre nor a school.

Cut off

If somebody gets ill, they need to be carried to the nearest health centre as no vehicles can reach the village.

One of WFP’s partners in Laos has helped thie village over the past few years, providing a water supply system among other things.

Copyright: 2007 WFP/Anke Kempshreur

There were plans to build a school but the construction was considered too difficult without an access road to deliver materials.

However, a WFP food-for-work project has enabled villagers to build the road and it is now almost finished.

Building assets

Through the project, WFP assists food insecure villages in building assets, such as roads, fish ponds or irrigation systems, to make their living conditions a little bit easier.

WFP provides food in return for the work done by the villagers and gives technical advice.

Conditions for building the road are difficult as the villagers have few tools and often have to work in heavy rain as the area is prone to monsoons. But it is worth it, according to the village chief we interviewed. He was one of the very few people in the village who spoke some Lao.

Opportunities for the future

‘This road will make it much easier for us to reach health facilities’, he said, ‘and now we can start to build a school so our children have more opportunities for the future.’

Another reason for the villagers to be very pleased with the road is that it may mean they don’t have to move. Over the past few decades, the Lao Government has relocated villages to more accessible areas to facilitate their access to services.

However, the Government does not provide the villages with the required support to develop alternative livelihoods. Therefore, many villages, such as Phoukhang village, are not willing to relocate.

Benefits

‘We don’t want to move,’ said the village chief, ‘we have built our community here and are used to the climate and the environment. We would not know how to survive in the lowlands’.

Improved access is not the only benefit to be gained from participating in WFP’s food-for-work project; villagers also receive rice in return for their work.

This is sorely needed as the village once produced opium but stopped when the Government decided to eradicate the drug. The village is now producing rice and beans, but it’s not enough.

A chicken lunch

The rice the villagers receive for this food-for-work project will help them through a three-month lean period.

The villagers were grateful for WFP’s help. They were very friendly when we visited them and even though they had very little food for themselves, they killed a chicken for us and prepared a nice lunch.

Very few foreigners have ever visited the village; this was obvious from the curious crowd of children that followed us everywhere.

I hope that with WFP’s help those children will have more opportunities than their parents ever had. The road their parents built might even pave the way to a more promising future….

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