14 medals and Ya

“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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De Hemel heeft nu balken

Een schaduw voegt zich bij mijn tempo,
heeft krullend haar en grote lach,
hij ziet me lopen in mijn eentje,
en hij wilt delen de blauwe baan.

Ik vraag aan Tonnie wat ik ermee moet,
hij was met anderen die niet meer zijn.
Ga met hem hollen en leer hem kennen,
en als ik dat doe voelt het heel fijn.

Nu sprint hij weg op naar de hemel,
een blauwe hemel zoals zijn baan,
daar blijft hij lopen tussen de engelen,
maar hier op aarde we missen Jan.

[blip.tv ?posts_id=3529977&dest=52451]

Conoce a la atleta de fondo Sonia Bejarano a través del reportaje realizado por el programa de televisión Campeonísimos.

Laos Fair Trade

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.


Marjolein Stegeman was really sharp while taking pictures during the marathon of Rotterdam last Sunday. The picture above has been selected for the “caption contest” that the Dutch website http://www.losseveter.nl organizes every week. Click on the picture and participate!

My caption is: “por mucho que corra se me sigue viendo los cuernos”.

Toekomst (door sport?)

Net afgewezen voor een sollicitatie bij Todos… inderdaad, mijn Nederlands is niet perfect. Maar ik had andere capaciteiten, zoals een uitgebreid netwerk in (top)-sportend Nederland, jarenlange ervaring in het coachen, motiveren, onderwijzen, begeleiden en aan-het-denken zetten van kinderen en jong-volwassenen. Een groot deel van die contacten en ervaringen heb ik opgedaan in Nederland (maar ook in Bolivia, Laos, Agentinie en Spanje), gebruikmakend van de Nederlandse taal. Daarbij zijn mijn Spaanse tongval en niet-perfecte Nederlands eerder een ijsbreker dan een beperking geweest. En had ik solliciteerd voor een baan als docent nederlands? Maar het is zoals het is. No hi ha res tan important”. Neem ik Spanje als besluit of ga ik altijd verder?


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!