Dindam Village is located within a kilometerâ€™s walk on Highway 7 to the Vietnam border. Highway 7 stretches from Luang Prabangâ€™s Phou Districtâ€™s Sam Nyek Village at the intersection of Highway 13 and Dindam Village to the east. Dindam Village homes are built in a valley along Highway 7. Mountains that provide majestic panoramic views rise from the villagersâ€™ backyards. Beyond the mountains are plateaus and valleys, where the villages farm lands reside.
Dindam villagers are made up of a mix of Lao Loum, Hmong and Khmu families. The village is an agricultural village that grows predominantly rice and corn. Rice is a basic staple for all Dindam Village families. Corn is a cash crop that is grown with the help of Vietnamese corn brokers, who sell seeds to the villagers and collect the ripe corn for delivery to the Vietnamese markets. Corn growing is profitable for the villagers, knowing that profitability is dependent on the robustness of the Vietnamese corn markets. During a good year, a farmer can raise up to $300 per hectare for the corn they grow.
The Dindam Preschool was built through the efforts of those of you who voted for Give Children A Choice during the Facebook Chase Community Giving Program in June and July 2010. We received the funds from the Chase Foundation in September 2010. We collaborated with the Xieng Khouang Education Department to search for and select Dindam Village.
When surveying the village for a location for the preschool, the villagers and the Education Department chose to build the preschool close to the primary school. The primary school was built on a flat stretch of land halfway up the mountain to the south. They chose to build the preschool another 50 meters further up the mountain.
The new preschool was built at the top of a level piece of land that afforded a majestic panoramic view from the preschoolâ€™s front steps.
While the children run up and down the beaten paths of the mountain between the road and the schools at their top speed, we struggled to negotiate the uneven path up to and from the preschool. It was an exhilarating feeling, seeing the spanking new preschool and having this incredible panoramic view, surrounding us.
We visited Dindam Village for the first time in February 2011. The preschool footprint and surrounding schoolgrounds were surveyed for UXO (unexploded ordnance by the Mine Advisory Group (MAG). We received our certificate that the land had been thoroughly surveyed. Delivering a safe schoolground is of utmost importance for us and for the children.
When we arrived, the school was in the midst of construction. It was about 85% complete. Finishing touches still needed to be completed. Power poles and electricity still needed to be installed. Water from the mountains above needed to be guided to the preschool bathrooms. Wood finish work and some final painting were still to be done.
Vitamin Angels accompanied us this trip. Collaborating with the Xieng Khouang provincial and district health departments, we introduced daily mutiple vitamins to the village leaders, teachers and children. We followed the vitamin distribution with singing and dancing with the children.
We received a call from the Dindam Village leaders. They asked for permission to open the school for the children. Teachers were assigned and the children registered. Since we had not returned for the handover ceremony, they were hesitant to open the school. Of course, we concurred.
Days were running shorter. Electricity was finally installed in the school. Electric utility poles were installed up the steep hill. The electricity was installed to feed the fans and electric lights in the school.
We visited the Dindam Village school again. Friends from the USA and New Zealand joined us. Again, the majestic views from the preschool door steps were majestic. On our agenda was to meet the preschool children, have our handover ceremony, follow up with the vitamin distribution and assessing the impact of the vitamins with the children.
The handover ceremony was memorable. Barbara, as our Lao country director, gave a speech, along with the District Education Department and the village naibane (village leader).
We learned that the villagers not only contributed 7% of the preschool construction cost, they also contributed $500 worth of rice and food to feed that workers everyday throughout the duration of the school construction. Itâ€™s a major commitment on their part and reflects their commitment to the childrenâ€™s education.
After the ceremony, Barbara and the children participated in a collaborative singing session, singing her â€œIf you want to be happy, Take your Vitaminâ€ song. She also had the children participate in her, â€œTake your vitamins and you can jump over the moon, the sun and the stars.â€ The children were engaged. More importantly, they will remember to take their vitamins everyday. We did learn from the parents, that the vitamin program at Dindam Village is successful. Parents not only shared the visible results from taking the vitamins, theyâ€™ve also made the effort to replenish their vitamin supplies, when they ran out.
We then joined the villagers with a baci, eating, drinking and dancing. This baci was a bit different. The villagers carried a cooked pig up the hill, presented on a Lao dinner table. They explained to us that presenting the entire pig was their way of expressing their special appreciation for the preschool. We sat around the table and for some of us, the pig was staring at us, for some of us, we got to stare at the pigâ€™s backside.
They villagers were having such a great time with us, that they locked the preschool room door from the outside. They did not want us to leave!