As I visited our work in villages in Laos with my wife, I was reminded more clearly than ever that basic hygiene and sanitation just doesn’t exist in some places in the world.
In the village of Dak Euy, we saw children barely old enough to walk relieving themselves right in the middle of the village.
Human beings should not have to live like this. It’s not just a matter of dignity. For these villagers, this lack of hygiene and sanitation is killing them.
You and I know how to prevent disease, but people who live in poor and marginalized villages have not yet heard. They don’t know to use toilets – or to at least isolate where they go to the bathroom or wash their hands.
What they are very familiar with, however, is disease, illness and death.
It is common for kids to die before they reach their fifth birthday in Dak Euy and the surrounding villages. Conservatively, through our interviews, I estimate at least 10% of children don’t reach the age of five. This is 17 times higher than the child mortality rate in the U.S.
By another estimate, half of the children are, dying before age five. It is no wonder that in these tribal communities, children are not immediately named, and that repeatedly throughout our trip, we met mothers who have lost children. As the father of a healthy, silly, 4-year-old girl, it hurts to even begin to imagine their pain.
Malaria, typhoid, dysentery – these preventable diseases all plague villagers – and especially hit the most vulnerable people the worst: children born into unclean environments, with little food, no clean water, and fragile immune systems.
Poor sanitation and accompanying water-borne disease is one of the worst health problems in the world. It is undoubtedly one of the primary killers of these kids.
With no sanitation, the cycle of sickness repeats itself over and over again.
As a hardy world traveler, I pride myself on never getting sick. But on this trip, I ended my stint in SE Asia with a flat-on-my-back, gotta-be-near-the bathroom, upset stomach yuck fest. I did not want to do anything but read a book, go to sleep, and stay near the bathroom. And I was clutching my stomach in a hotel room in Bangkok, not on the dirty, hard floor of a hut with no bathroom at all.
I cannot imagine dealing with that kind of discomfort, and far worse, for much of my life. I shudder to think about what that would do to me both physically and mentally, to have this occur over and over again. But this is daily life for so many villagers in Dak Euy, and many other struggling communities.
I am glad to say that our supporters (that’s you!) are helping villagers get beyond this cycle of disease.
While I was visiting our villages, our contracted drilling truck arrived and we hit water for a new well in Dak Din. It was incredible, one of the most exciting moments of my life! Just imagine the transformative power of clean, convenient water. We are also teaching villagers about hygiene (thank God!), and doing it in a way that it will stick.
We will be constructing latrines in these communities, with the help of the villagers. And because they are learning why and how, they can build more latrines once we leave. The idea with all of our work is for it to be transformational, not temporary. Our desire in these villages is for children to use a latrine, wash their hands – and stay healthy.
When I look at the ground in these villages, I am repelled that people and animals relieve themselves wherever they please. And yet I know by visiting developing communities, that life does get better. Disease subsides. And that’s what we’re shooting for in these villages in Laos.
Changing lives is working with people over time, revealing a better path – not just directing people to “our way.” In doing so, in loving people with sincerity, we show them a clearer look at the life God would want for any of us.