This is Clare Rutz reporting from Vientiane in Laos.
As an In-The-Field traveler I was able to see a side of Laos that most backpackers wouldn’t. I was able to talk to the people, visit their homes, and catch a glimpse of their daily lives. SEDA, a small non-profit that reaches out to many different communities with a thoughtful approach to each, gave me the opportunity to ask what it was the people of Vientiane and the surrounding villages needed. Their response was often exactly what SEDA was determined to help them with.
Some projects help thousands of people, while others help just one, but when given the chance to see the smile that comes from that one person in thanks for what was given to them, you do not question the importance of such philanthropy. Andee is a twelve-year-old girl who was completely paralyzed until six months ago. With physical therapy and medicine that helps rejuvenate her nerve cells given to her by SEDA she is able to show some movement. When asked to move her arms she did with a proud smile immediately following her accomplishment. I was fortunate enough to come on a day where Souly, the founder of SEDA, was delivering a surprise to Andee. We had brought a full set of sheets and a bright pink blanket for her bare mattress. Her simple joy for such simple amenities could easily ground anyone. With the right funding another surprise will hopefully make its way to Andee. Souly is currently looking for a hospital bed that will help her with physiotherapy and exercise!
Jumping back into the car we head towards another project of SEDA’s. We are visiting a woman who is apart of the microfinance opportunity that SEDA provides. When we arrive the first thing I notice is the spinning wheel. It’s the main attraction of the tiny building the family resides in. “Without the spinning wheel there would be no building”, was what I was told after I asked how their lives changed since the microfinance program. It provides them with a job that pays for the necessities. The microfinance project gives three to four hundred women loans in order to start spinning. The women collect old collars and bits of cloth from the factories and spin it back to useable string. SEDA provides the loans and helps the women with marketing. They are required to set up a group of five to ten women with one accountant and one secretary, and as a team they are responsible for repaying their loans. The interest rates compared to the local banks are extremely low, which allow the women to take the risk and begin working. The program provides a sustainable income for these women, and sustainability is a large component to the path towards self-reliance, the greatest goal of SEDA.
Our last stop is a once abandoned house that was previously owned by a USAID worker. The swimming pool is empty and weeds burst from the cracks, but something remarkable is going on in the backyard. A greenhouse full of potted plants is the beginning of a huge step forward for the farmers of Laos. SEDA is researching the most effective farming techniques that can be taught to farmers to increase the quality and quantity of their agricultural goods. They are also researching “cash crops”, which are the crops that are in high demand. Agarwood is the leading product in this field, and SEDA is making long strides to grow this special wood used for medicine and cosmetics, distribute the seedlings, and train farmers on how to tend to the crop. The difficulties of the process include the transportation of the seedlings, which is very costly and the training. Agarwood needs to be grown in a very specific way in order for the quality to be adequate enough to use, therefore, the training process will need to be long and thorough. With each great idea come obstacles! Follow the progress of SEDA on their page on GlobalGiving at: www.globalgiving.com/2219 to check up on Andee and to support the women in the microfinance program go to www.globalgiving.com/2504. To read about the agricultural program that completed its funding goal go to www.globalgiving.com/2012.
When asked what she would tell her friends about this project, Clare said: "Great: They are making a difference."