Archive for the ‘Laos’ Category

After the completion of the games in 2009 in Vientiane, support for sports development in Lao has practically ground to a halt. Internationally funded coaches (both Lao and foreign) that previously provided structured programs for Lao athletes training for the games have returned to their home countries or stopped coaching due to the discontinuation of funding. Sports facilities built for the games have also started to deteriorate as maintenance costs can no longer be met. As a result several athletes who were able to compete at an elite level at the SEA Games are now in a state of limbo, with no facilities, coaches or competitions and hence little motivation to continue pursuing their sporting dreams.

However, the Laos’ Middle Distance Athletic Squad is an extremely dedicated group of athletes. The squad consists of 4 girls and 6 boys. Disciplines range from 800m to 10km. All 10 athletes are aged in between 15 and 24 years.  Despite limited facilities and the few competitions in own country, all athletes have continued training a minimum of 5 times a week, with some training up to 8 times a week.

I began voluntarily working with the Lao athletes after the completion of the SEA Games. Besides the coaching of these athletes, I started together with Emma to look for sponsors to take the squad to the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon which was held in Cambodia on December 5th, 2010. After raising more than $4000, 7 athletes traveled to Cambodia. The experience was a phenomenal success.

Lao Squad and coaches after Angkor Wat race

The Arafura Games is the leading international sporting competition for emerging athletes from the Asia Pacific region. Held every two years in Darwin, the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory, the Arafura Games features many different sporting disciplines including athletics. The event is as much about cultural integration as the sports themselves, with the games being billed as a ‘meeting of sporting neighbors’. The next Arafura Games will be held between 7-14 May of 2011. It is a great opportunity for some of the athletes of the Lao squad to continue fulfilling their sportive ambitions and become leading sports ambassadors of their country. Therefore Emma and I are looking again for donors to allow for 6 athletes to participate in the Arafura Games. Two athletes are expected to participate in the 5.000 meters race, another two will race the 800 meters and the remaining two will represent Laos in the half marathon. Expected costs to take 6 athletes to the Arafura Games are 3000 US$ (6 athletes a 500 US$ per athlete). The management of the donations will be done by INGO Village Focus International.

And now: would you like to support Lao Athletes to compete at the Arafura Games?


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Lao Team about to go out for pre-race dinner (left to right) – Emma Zalcman (coach), Mr. Sengkeo Sengsuritoa, Mr. Bountom Glorkham, Ms. Souvanhy Phengthijack, Ms. Souksavanh Malivanh, Ms. Touly Phengphalung, Ms. Khout Keo MuenKot, Mr. Sysavath Thammavongchit, Mr Alex Van De Meer (Coach)

When Ya (19) and Souk (19) travelled to Siem Reap last Friday they had no intention of winning the 15th Angkor Wat International 10 Km running race. But after running 32’12” and 38’26” respectively, they did not only win one of the most popular races in the South Asian running calendar, they also set new course records in both the men and the women category. Starting at 6.40 AM last Sunday 5 December 2010 in front of Angkor Wat temple, both Lao runners dominated their respective races in a course that offers fantastic views of historical temples and lush jungle.

Angkor Podium 10 Km 2010 1st - Ms. Souksavanh Malivanh 2nd – Ms Koh Leng Leng (Singapore) 3rd - Ms. Touly Phengphalung

Souk’s victory is a new 10 Km national record and provides additional motivation during her preparation for the upcoming SEA student Games in Chiang Mai, where she will represent Lao PDR in the Womens 1500m. Toly (15) accompanied Souk on the podium after she ran in 40’17”, to finish 3rd. Toly is the current national champion in the 800 meters. In this same race Khout (15) and Souvanhy (15) ended impressively to come 5th and 7th respectively.

Ya, who represented Laos last year during the SEA Games in Vientiane, and about whom I wrote some posts ago, improved his personal best by more than 2 minutes in Angkor Wat International 10 Km. In the same race Tom (23) ran 34’15”, taking him to the 4th position. In the half marathon race Seng (24), who holds the national record in the marathon (and about whom I already wrote in a previous post) had injury concerns after the 14th Km when he was still running in the 4th position. Despite the problems during the race, and a difficult preparation towards Angkor (Seng suffered from Malaria – thanks doctor Cecile for your help), Seng ran the half marathon in a strong 1h. 25’.

Podium Angkor 2010 10 Km Men 1st - Mr. Sysavath Thammavongchit, 2nd – Alex 3rd – Mr Leroy Vial (Expatriate friend residing in Vientiane)

The team was accompanied by Emma a group of expatriate running enthusiasts living in Vientiane who offered considerable financial support to the athletes and myself. Financial assistance was also provided by Joma, The Laos Elephants Football Club and Athletics Essendon (an Australian Athletics Club).

All runners of the Lao middle and long distance squad will participate in the Lao-Singapore Charity Run, which will be held next Saturday in Vientiane. This race is the only opportunity that these runners have this year to compete in a road race in their own country. This forces them to look for competitions overseas to keep developing their sport careers.

Laos Team warming up. From Left to Right - Mr. Bountom Glorkham, Ms. Souksavanh Malivanh, Ms. Touly Phengphalung, Ms. Khout Keo MuenKot, Mr. Sengkeo Sengsuritoa

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Last week I traveled with 8 athletes from the Laos athletics team to the King’s Cup Thailand National Track and Field Championships in Bangkok. I was accompanied by Emma Zalcman and Chalensouk AOUDOMPHANH (Jiab). Emma moved to Laos to volunteer as a veterinarian for ElefantAsia, a French NGO which offers free veterinary care to domesticated elephants.  Keen to continue training (when she wasn’t busy with elephants!), Emma quickly became involved in athletics in Lao PDR; joining the Laos Middle Distance squad shortly after her arrival.  Jiab is currently the sprinters’ coach of the squad and, among other events, has also represented Lao PDR at the Olympic Games of Athens.  The championships were at Thammasat University and against strong teams from over 8 countries within Asia.

19 year old, Souksavanh Makivan posted a personal best time of 5.07 minutes in the Junior Women’s 1500m to win bronze. She then went on to win the 5000 meters in a time of 20.01 minutes. Souksavanh competed in the 2009 SEA Games and will compete in the ASEAN Student Games in Chang Mai next December as well at the Angkor 10Km, also in December. Two other athletes made the Junior Womens 800m final. Competing against athletes far older than them, Koud Keo  and Toly (both 15 years old) posted personal best times (2.30.01 and 2.34.10 respectively) to earn their place in the final. Both athletes made significant improvements on their former personal bests which were run at the SEA Games in 2009. Laos was also well represented in the junior mens events. After a too fast start (9.45 after 3000 meters) Sysavath finished 7th in the 5000 m with a time of 17.30 minutes. Bountom Glorkham completed his third the 1500m ever in 4.35 minutes.

The athletes of the middle and long distance squad are now training hard to prepare for the Angkor 10 Km to be held on December 5th in Cambodia.  So far Joma BakeryAthltetics Essendon (Athletics club from Melbourne) and The Lao Elephants (Australian rules football club) have already made donations to cover the costs of 4 athletes to participate in Ankor. Saeng of Bluegrass Design Group has kindly supported us making a fantastic folder to promote this initiative. We are still looking for sponsorship to cover travel costs of other 4 athletes.  Interested parties can contact me at meerisimo@hotmail.com

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“Never get too much affection with any of the players, they are selfish, one day they’ll just leave you behind and that will hurt you”. The advice came from Luis Garcia, the trainer of CD Alcoyano – my hometown football team – in 1996. At that time I collaborated as an assistant trainer in different sections of the football school of the club. I have no idea how to do anything without affection. Neither that I have thought much about those words in all these years…

Until some weeks ago, when Ya told me that he would follow a different training program to mine the last four weeks before the national track and field championship hold last week in Borikhamxay while we were cooling down. At the beginning I did not understand very well what he meant; perhaps because we communicate in a mixture of few Lao (me) – English (he) words, and because just few hours before we had been discussing on which distances he would run during the championships. Without Ya but with other 6 athletes the trainings continued. Day after day I understood better the  Ya’s decission. Different provinces start recruiting runners when a major championship gets close. Depending on the province for which they will compete, runners can get between 40,000 (5US$) and 60,000 (7US$) Kip per training and 3 and 4 million kip per medal. In a country like Laos this is a lot, and for young people like Ya this money is essential to pay his studies or to support his family. In Ya’s particular situation, the club for which he was asked to run had told him to follow the program of another coach. Not doing that might have put him in a difficult situation for the future; after all I am just another foreigner that will leave Laos as I came. However, Ya still joined the group in many of the trainings, specially when his coach was not around or when that coach had forgotten to think about a programme for that day. The situation of the other runners was different. The coach of the province they run for is an “all-time smiling woman” who seats on the track, looks at what we do, pays the runners, smiles and goes home. Oh yes, she gets paid by someone from that province, but don’t ask me where the money comes from, or what they pay her for. A good friend who has experienced this for more than 20 years had already warned me that this type of coaches appear and disappear before and after championships.

The championships came, the runners travelled to Borikhamxay and a dengue fever avoided that I could cheer them there. Curious to know their results, I went yesterday to the stadium in the center of Vientiane. Their smiles when they saw me gave me a good feeling, which was confirmed when I asked if they were happy with the results: 14medals! Touly won the 800 and 1500 meters. Souk won 3,000 and 10,000 meters. Souvany was second in 1500, 3000 and 10,000 meters (and promissed that she will run only in 2 distances next time; I do not believe her). Koud, who I had not seen the last 2 weeks, was third in 800 and 1500. Who is that girl who got second in the 800? As for the boys, Seyxana won the 800, 1500, 5000 and 10,000. I accept that it will be impossible to convince him to run less events nex time. I have lost that war. Tom was second in the 1500. And Ya? Ya got second in the 5,000 and 10,000.

The group has now two weeks of rest as the will travel to rural provinces to visit their families. In the mean time, Emma and Sirivanh have started to look for sponsors to take the group to run in the 10 Km of Ankor Wat, Cambodia.

“Atchan Alex, me also possible to Ankor Wat?”

 – “Yes Ya, you can also come with us to Ankor Wat if we find sponsors”. Welcome back (if you were ever gone).

PS – I guess that I will not see other coaches until few weeks before the next championships, something that in Laos you never know when that will be.

PS II – I understood that Huaphan province pays athletes from money they make out of logging and mining. I do not know how to feel about it. I hope it was legal… 

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Fair Trade Laos was established by a small group of motivated business people and NGOs that see the potential of Fair Trade to improve producers’ and farmers’ lives and at the same time offer customers a high quality product.

Since many of the smaller producers are not able to afford the costs of international certification, the group considers developing a Laos Fair Trade Certificate, which will follow the criteria of the two main Fair Trade certification organisations. That way, the international certification could be obtained at a later stage.

The group is still being developed, but it helps already plenty of small producers and poor Laotians to increase their opportunities in life and feeds western houses with quality products.

Find here more information about each of its members or follow here the blog for recent news from members Fair Trade Laos.


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Lao Ngam is one of the 8 districts of Saravane Province, a region in South Laos that borders with Vietnam to the east, Thailand to the west, Champasak and Sekong Provinces to the south and Savannaketh province to the north. With sticky and red soils and average temperatures of 13 and 28 C degrees, the plateau of Lao Ngam district is a suitable area for cultivation and livestock. Current economic crops are coffee, cassava, cardamon, pepper, peanuts, sweet potato, maize, fruit trees and beans. According to a publication of the Provincial Tourism Department, the region is also suitable for food processing and raising livestock.  Yet I (Wageningen alumni 1) found difficult to find enterprises that process any of these crops. Only the small shops selling papaya salad and fresh coconuts that I encountered during my first long run along road 20 seem to be 100% Lao business. Dreaming of  gold medals and national records,  I use the signs of companies on this road as landmarks that help me to keep the pace and increase kilometers to my dreams; most of the signs are written in no Lao language.

One day later a  single study tour (this one by car) from Lao Ngam towards the city of Salavan with some colleagues  (Wageningen alumni 2 and 3)  who collaborate with the Green Earth Center of Village Focus International will confirm these first impressions. The signs  belong to one Vietnamese cassava powder factory, one Chinese Hydro-power Corporation, one Japanese enterprise, a Thai maize processing plant. Later on another Chinese sign, this one of a furniture factory. Thirty km from Lao Ngam we encountered the first Western investment: a Dutch piglet raising farm run by a Dutch expert (Wageningen alumni 4) which seems to have a strong commitment with improving the livelihood of poor farmers. The farm breeds and sells piglets to local farmers for 300,000 kip (approx. 35 US$; price for piglets of 7 Kg). The farm also provides fodder and free veterinary advise to farmers. Once the pigs are around 120 Kg farmers bring the pigs to a slaughterhouse in Pakse for a price of 14,500 kip/Kg; this is around 200 US$/pig.

Growing mushrooms seems less “profitable” for farmers than keeping pigs. The district agricultural and forestry office sells micellized bags at the price of 2000 kip/bag (0,23 US$). After 4 months farmers can collect 800 grams of mushrooms per set. Farmers sell mushrooms for a price of 15,000 kip/Kg in the local market. In other words, one bag of mushrooms gives around 12,000 kip (1,4 US$). A more lucrative type of mushroom and cinnamon are germinated at the same station of DAFO, but most of the processing is done in Japan, where these are sold for medicinal purposes. A similar story can be told for the cassava, and for the maize, and the electricity: made in Laos, proce$$ed and $old overseas. Meanwhile, Laos continues to import most of the processed products one can buy in a supermarket in major cities like Pakse and Salavan. And with the exception of Beer Lao, some coffee, the exceptional products of Xao Ban (village in English) and few others, supermarkets in Vientiane do not look like much different. Running back to the Center I like to think that there is room for skill development in transfer of agricultural technology and in the development of (Laotian) agro-processing industries. The Green Earth Center, which is located in Lao Ngam District Center (click here for a map of the location), may well play a role in this, since it aims to become a center of agricultural training, research, production and marketing to directly support local farmers and government officials.

Mr. Kesone, manager of this Center wishes that “the Center becomes a full time venue for knowledge development and sharing about sustainable agriculture and sound rural development, not only for and by (I)NGOs but also by and for entrepreneurs, government agencies and rural citizens”. Therefore, ideas are currently generated and collected to ensure that the Center meets the needs of the interested groups and users and has an added value for sustainable rural development in (South) Lao PDR (for a note of this concept please click here). And it seems that the first steps have been done in the right direction. Mrs. Nut (Wageningen alumni 2), a Thai social entrepreneur who founded and manages Xao Ban products will collaborate with training and processing of some fruit crops in the Green Earth Center. Likewise, Mr. Jacob, (Wageningen alumni 4) manager of the piglet farm introduced above showed interest to collaborate with the production of pig fodder.

Beyond the development of agribusinesses, the Green Earth Center seems to have potential in another meant to be cash industry: tourism. In fact, 20km short of Lao Ngam, the ten-meter-high Tad Lo Waterfall has lead to a steady stream of foreign visitors. Yet, Green Earth Center may be a better destination for visitors looking for the rural and farming Laos. Or for national and international agricultural and international development students who may find in the Green Earth Center what a Dutch expert (alumni 5) described as a “one-stop demonstration / shop for customized sustainable solutions”. This idea was shared by an Australian livestock researcher while drinking coffee in the French style Sinouk cafe in Pakse (sinouk@laopdr.com). By the way, the more exquisite foreign visitors may better stay in the very attractive tourist resort that Sinouk Café Lao is building in its organic coffee plantation on the Bolaven Plateau. Of course, they will always be welcome to enjoy fishing in one of the two ponds at the Green Earth Center!

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Despite the hills, the heat and the four flat tires (one of them mine when I was about to make Elco tired going up hill…),  and one small accident (also me when I was playing to be a cameraman interviewing Team Captain Wil), Team Dai reached Phonsavanh, capital of  Xieng Khuang Province, which is famous for its Plain of Jars. With our effort and the enormous generosity from over 130 private donors from all over the world, and about $5,000 raised by the raffle held in Vientiane, this year Team Dai has raised US$17,375. Team Dai is so grateful for the generosity and support of all of them, but I want to thank specially to the 9 friends from Holland who supported this challenge. Thank you so much!!

Click here to see a slide show of images from the 2010 Team Dai Challenge! (thanks to Peggy on our great support crew). For a really nice written description of our adventure check out http://www.dentsadventure.com written by teammate Sharon aka “the fresh”.

The total amount will be split evenly and distributed to the three organisations described previously. This is a great result and the three organizations were extremely grateful at a small presentation ceremony at the COPE center on Friday March 12th.  We’ve asked for a brief report with pictures of how the money is used, and will send this to all donors too.

Team Dai su su,

Alex aka “the bull”

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