Here is a wonderful letter written by one of our supporters, Philippa. A great account of her own experiences in Laos and of the work that A4D do.
“As you all begin your well earned holidays and settle into the warm glow of festive times with your families, I hope that my ” Letter from Laos ” to you will add to your special spirit of Christmas and will be an enjoyable and interesting read. It is also my tribute to you for the life changing contribution you have made to a very vulnerable and brave little girl, thousands of miles away in an extremely poor Southeast Asian country.
For those of you who may not know, the little child is 9 year old “Pasil ” which means ” little fish “.
She lives in a rural area 30 miles north of Vientiane the capital of Laos with her parents and 3 little sisters. This is where I visited her on the 7th December with the A4D Laos team.
To get to Pasil’s ” home ” we eventually found the unmarked 5 mile dirt track off the nearest tarmac road which we followed to her small community. There an enigmatic little girl was anxiously waiting at the corner of her village.
She took us immediately to meet her family. They have very few possessions besides their wooden shack home. No refrigeration or furniture to speak of, let alone a car. There is no “kitchen” and cooking facilities are very primitive on a traditional open stone stove. I saw no sign of a sink or standpipe. There is no bathroom. The family occupy just two basic rooms and it was cause for concern that the roof is in a bad condition.
Pasil’s father works as a labourer and in a subsistence farming economy that really endorses the level of poverty at which they “exist”.
So it is completely and utterly remarkable that Pasil made it to Vientiane hospital at midnight one night in February 2016 in the grip of a severe diabetic coma.
Pasil presented in a very dangerous medical condition but miraculously and as amazing good luck would have it, A4D Co founder Charles Toomey was in Vientiane just about to start the the A4D operation for Type 1 diabetes children in Laos.
Thanks to the intervention of A4D Pasil received emergency insulin treatment and therefore became the first child in Laos to receive support from A4D in Laos. There is no doubt that without it Pasil would have died.
Pasil survived, she returned to her family after weeks of hospitalisation, equipped with diabetic testing kit, strips, instructions and insulin. The injections she needs she does herself and the insulin is kept in her uncle’s fridge nearby.
Having seen this small child self administer her treatment first hand I can tell you it is off the “Richter Scale” of incredible .. Coming to terms and dealing with the distress of Type 1 diabetes for children is a phenomenal adjustment for them to cope with …if you are 9 years old in a developed country it is a massive personal challenge in childhood so I know you can imagine that in rural Laos it is very very tough indeed. There is simply no question about it, Action4Diabetics and the Vientiane medics are Pasil’s lifeline.
Although Pasil appears comparatively well now and transformed from the picture of the desperately thin and seriously ill little girl she was in spring 2016, unfortunately her blood testing and the daily routine of injections of insulin which Pasil demonstrated to us, is not perfect. So helping her to establish a correct routine is ongoing and vital work. A very special thanks to Fiona Ooi of A4D who though new to the role, should be congratulated for her dedicated and very professional monitoring of these children. Fiona works closely with the medical team at Mahosot hospital Vientiane who I also met, and her important work will ensure that Pasil ‘s education and diabetes management is taken to a higher level.
Pasil’s parents are trying to comprehend their daughters condition. It is so hard for them, they are not educated and are apparently struggling to provide the correct monitoring and support for their eldest child. This highlights the importance of the longevity of the A4D care and support.
You may be wondering about “The little girl ” Pasil, her childhood, what is she like and how does she cope? Well not surprisingly the scars of her ordeal and fears are etched in her young face, but there is also a remarkable bravery and certain pride about her. I also saw glimpses of a spirited mischief which I’m sure as she grows in confidence and health will shine more and break through
her anxiety and shyness.
She had every reason to be shy and apprehensive the day of our visit, 5 western looking adults landing in her world. For a child of her age, she tackled it really well. I so admired her dignity, manner and natural courtesy in such a testing situation.
Pasil was in her considered way excited to see us and although she escorted us with a serious expression she had a little spring in her step. Later she relaxed more and smiled having had the chance to weigh things up on her terms and not to be rushed.
Her little sisters Goy, Dam and Mam, are naughty, funny, highly inquisitive but not so shy! They loved eating all the fruit we took them and also I gave them a couple of packages of clothes and some toys from Jersey. I gave Pasil a box of Dominos and within 10 minutes she had picked it up and we had a happy time together and then encouraged her intrigued sisters to join in. She has a competitive streak and an engaging sense of fun so we had many smiles at that point.
A4D also delivered the family a couple of large boxes of essentials and food. Their gratitude was expressed so much in their eyes and smiles and you simply don’t need language skills to communicate the message that tells them we identify their need and want to help.. and they reciprocate with facial expressions that leave you in no doubt that they are so overwhelmingly grateful`and take nothing for granted. The Lao people are some of the gentlest, most warm and kind people I have ever met on my travels.
Other good news is there is an electricity supply to her village, Pasil’s father has a mobile phone of sorts and there is also a primary school nearby.
Re Laos the country …
I confess I knew nothing really about Laos before my visit and to set the wider scene and to give you a little more information here are a few basic facts and figures ..
– Laos is one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia.
-It is a mountainous landlocked country but the Mighty River Mekong flows through it.
– Laos shares borders with Vietnam to the East, Cambodia to the South, Thailand to the west and Myanmar and China to the North.
-The population is 6.8 million and 70 % of the population are subsistence farmers.
-The Laos GDP was worth 12.33 billion US dollars in 2015 and represents 0.02 of the world economy
-There is no freedom of speech and there is a poor human rights record.
-Children make up 38% of the population
-71 in every 1000 children in Laos die before their 5th birthday.
-There is severe malnutrition and over 30 % of children in Laos display symptoms of stunting and wasting (i.e. height and weight to age ratios. )
-Only $33 per capita was spent on health care in Laos in 2015
-In the Uk the figure was 120 times that at $3935 per capita.( WHO Data )
In dealing with complicated child health problems in a challenging country such as Laos, people often take the view that the task at hand is in too great; that it is insurmountable and ultimately impossible. However, the work of an organisation like Aciton4Diabetics is a source of great hope.
By combining medical resources with sound logistical skill and experience, A4D are able to provide practical solutions for individual children living with Type 1 Diabetes. After being out to Laos and visiting these families, I have realised that it is so incredibly important and worthwhile to try because you cannot put a value on a child’s future; no challenge is too great and no donation is too small.
Pasil’s story shows that miracles can be achieved against all the odds.
A4D is giving these children the chance to survive and the added value “domino ” effect is that they can be helped to thrive and support each other and ” turn the tide “in countries with so many humanitarian challenges.
The work and vision cannot deliver without the generosity of people like you who show interest concern and commitment. Without it there can be less progress .
So once again thank you very much for your important and valued sponsorship of Action4Diabetics in Laos. You are making a massive difference to Pasil.. A ” little fish ” swimming very bravely in a very big sea. “