"A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." Joseph Smith

Monday, November 23, 2015

Lessons and Laughter in Lao

Elder Coffey and I visited the country of Lao to meet our humanitarian couple and inspect some of the humanitarian projects and processes there.

In Vientiane, the capital city, a happy chatter filled the room as students giggled through the opening exercise of vocabulary review. Deseret International Charities (DIC) English lessons were in full swing for government employees in Vientiane, Lao. Our senior humanitarian couple, Elder and Sister Bush, oversee the teaching of 500 students each week. Laughter erupted as the students followed Sister Bush in a round of Hokey Pokey, learning body parts while singing the fun American dance.

Elder Coffey joins in a round of Hokey Pokey

The six Elders who are serving in Lao are teaching at the Center for Medical Rehabilitation. These stalwart young men come from the United States, usually without knowing another language. They learn Thai in the Missionary Training Center and begin their service in Thailand.  They are later assigned to Lao, where they quickly pick up the new language.

But these Elders have gone even further.  They are teaching English to deaf students  - using Lao Sign Language, which they also learned on site. And the students love them!

American Thai-taught Lao-learned Lao-Sign-Language English teachers!  I'd say the gift of tongues is alive and well in this little corner of the Lord's vineyard!

At the Center for Medical Rehabilitation, we next observed disabled employees assembling wheelchairs which will later be used for some of our wheelchair projects.

This  man is trying out his new trike wheelchair.  A happy grin spreads over his face as he looks back in gratitude. It's such a simple thing - but a wheelchair can make all the difference in restoring dignity of the human spirit.

Later we were driven to the small village of Nabong.  We were fortunate to be accompanied by the Deputy Director in the Ministry of Education and Sport. We were headed to a water handover ceremony at the Nabong Primary and Secondary School - 750 students and 35 faculty. In a recent clean water and sanitation project, DIC built 12 toilet stalls, 4 handwashing stations, and piping and filters for clean drinking water. 

Deputy Director of the Ministry of Education and Sport inspects a handwashing station.

The 2 hour ceremony of speeches, dance, song and lunch were evidence of their extreme gratitude.

Girls dressed in traditional Hmong costumes.  Hmong are a minority group living in the area.

Click here for a video of these beautiful young women as they danced for us at the ceremony -  Hmong Dancers

Elder Coffey with some of the beautiful dancers

        Distributing school kits 

Dressed in costume for their dance routine, They were a little shy, but finally consented to a picture.

Traditional Lao hair style

But the "Fun Team" stole the show. Look at the faces of these young people as they watch in amazement when the "Fun Team", as the Elders are affectionately called, break out in an unexpected dance routine that rocked the school!

 Video of Elders Dancing

Life will never be the same for this school!  After the ceremonies, the "Fun Team" leads the students in water rocket launching. It is always a huge hit wherever they go.

The Elders have worked hard. Their shoes will probably never be the same either!

Meanwhile, the school staff have been cooking up a lunch for their visitors. 

In the pot go the veggies for our delicious lunch!
No need for too many utensils - fingers do the trick in Lao!

After the meal, the staff wash up the dishes in cold water.  Cold water dish-washing is typical in Asia.

Elder Coffey tries to get some of the students to pose for a picture.

There you go! Smiles and all! 

The greatest joy we experience on our mission is when we are out with the people, seeing their lives, their homes, their world. And everywhere we go, it is the humblest of people who carry the largest smiles. To act in the name of the Savior - to help restore dignity, lift out of poverty and bring hope to families - this is the healing mission of LDS Charities and of Deseret International Charities.

The LDS Charities website explains, "Sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, LDS Charities follows the admonition of Jesus Christ to help others in need. Jesus Christ taught His followers to give meat to the hungry and drink to those who thirst. His gospel includes taking in the stranger, loving neighbors, and visiting those who are sick or imprisoned. He taught that we are to love and care for each other, visit the fatherless and widows in their afflictions, and lift up those whose hands hang down and whose knees are feeble."

"To touch the soul of another human being 
is to walk on holy ground."

                                  Stephen Covey

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Real Treasures in Roi Et, Thailand

Roi Et:

The mystic hollow ringing of the brass temple gong echoed through the air. Stroking and rubbing the brass knob in just the right rhythm will produce deep melodic buzzes or tones that carry your prayers to heaven.

Click HERE for a video of the ringing gongs.

We were at the Phra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol Naga pagoda.  Famous as one of the largest and most expensive Buddhist temples to built in the area, the treasure in this pagoda lies on the 5th floor at the top of a winding staircase.

Visitors worship before relics of Buddha preserved in a glass case.

Thousands of travelers, members and pilgrims come from miles around to offer prayers and offerings before the sacred relics of Buddha, lying in a glass case at the highest part of the temple.

We were in Roi Et to attend a large wheelchair distribution ceremony. Recipients and family members came to be trained in their wheelchair use and participate in the handover ceremony. 


The media was there also, and no wonder, because the Governor of the Roi Et Province, Somsak Changtraku (purple shirt, below), was one of the key note speakers.  He shared publicly his appreciation for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and explained how the government is working to make the community easier to get around for those who are disabled.  

The gentleman in the purple shirt is the Roi Et Provincial Governor,
with his entourage of media never far.

The head of Rotary, Krairat Watson, also spoke, praising the work of LDS Charities and the Church for the humanitarian work done throughout Thailand.  
Local priesthood leaders were in attendance, including local Stake President Amphorn and the local Bishop of the Roi Et Ward.  

Local LDS Priesthood leaders meet Krairat Watson, head of Rotary.
Each wheelchair had the recipients own name on it, having been made to their individual size and specifications.

Elder Coffey checks the legs of a wheelchair recipient, 11 year old Chinaway Wichaisorn.
Chinaway Wichaisorn, (11 years old, above) has weakness in his legs that has prevented him from ever being able to walk. Multiple visits to doctors and therapists have not been successful. Chinaway is in the the 5th grade and an excellent student - loving especially Thai classes, though he says he also listens to English. His last wheelchair was given to him when he was in kindergarten and he long ago outgrew it.  This new chair will be a great blessing to him and his parents as well.

With all the historic and cultural treasures in Roi Et, the real treasures are the people, who carry the Light of Christ with them wherever they go.  As sons and daughters of God, there is a connection we feel as brothers and sisters, linked together by sacred divine ties. Most people just want to be happy at home, with their loved ones around them.  We are grateful LDS Charities can help bring a little more happiness into their lives.

Humanitarian Visits in Kohn Kaen,Thailand

From Chiang Mai we flew to Kohn Kaen. We were travelling with Elder and Sister Ellsworth, our Thailand humanitarian missionaries, and Elder and Sister Lyon, the MLS couple of the Kohn Kaen Branch.

View of Kohn Kaen from our hotel window.

There are more than 18,000 members of the Church in Thailand. We visited the chapel in Kohn Kaen - a thriving place!

One of our branch members is Nok.  Nok is a registered nurse and works for the Department of Communicable Disease. She is also a trained wheelchair assessor and trains other professionals on proper wheelchair assessments.

Kohn Kaen:

Our first humanitarian project visit was a mosquito net distribution in the village of Bau Thum.  This village leader (in military uniform) knows everyone in his village by name. 

We were traveling with the Rotary who had made the arrangements for the project distributions and ceremonies.
The Rotary worked with the local government leaders to help identify those in the village who needed nets the most, usually the poor, elderly or disabled. 

This woman (left, holding net) suffers from cancer, and was very grateful for her mosquito net.  Malaria and dengue fever are very prevalent here.

The second stop was at the village of Ban Nong Takai in the Sa Wa Tee district.  One hundred nets were distributed to a very grateful and humble group of villagers.


A spontaneous embrace from a grateful recipient.

This woman's smile depicts her gratitude.  I love the nail polish on her nails!

On Saturday November 7th, we participated in a wheelchair distribution. Nok and two other trained assessors had worked with local government leaders to identify and assess those who could qualify for a wheelchair. Wheelchairs had been ordered according to the assessments, and arrived at the distribution with their names embroidered on the backs of their own individual wheelchairs. 

Ms. Da Wan, 45 years old, has been a diabetic for 20 years. Due to complications, two years ago she had the lower part of her right leg amputated.  This is the first wheelchair she has owned.  It will make a big difference in her life. Her smile tells it all.

This woman (right) has had weakness in her legs due to a car accident 26 years ago.  Medical care has not been able to help.  She has used a stick to hobble around with great difficulty.  This is her first wheelchair too.

This is Wat Pimkamlai (left).  She is 73 years old and had a stroke recently.  She is learning how to be more mobile and self reliant with the use of a wheelchair.  Family members and recipients received training on how to care for the wheelchair and how to maneuver it safely.

At the ceremony to distribute the wheelchairs, the Deputy Mayor of Khon Kaen spoke, as well as other key individuals. St. Josephs, a charitable NGO, helps LDS Charities in these projects by helping get the wheelchairs through customs and store them until they are distributed.  It is a triple partnership between LDS Charities, the Rotary, and St. Josephs - a combination that enables hundreds of people to be blessed throughout Thailand.

Other Scenes From Kohn Kaen:

Massive webs of wires are the norm here.

Little bamboo baskets with lids hold our sticky rice for us at meal time.

Traditional Thai food at a local restaurant - spicy!!!

Colorful and ready for business!