Dori Shimoda, founder of Give Children a Choice, guest blogs about his experience in Laos meeting the Laguna Blanca students traveling with Friendship Tours World Travel.
Barbara and I were very fortunate (and we thank our good friend Fred Branfman for the introduction) to have met Ms. Alethea Paradis. She’s an attorney, turned teacher, turned entrepreneur who started a tour company, called Friendship Tours World Travel. It offers experiential and community involvement tours to countries of former adversaries*. This is her first tour to Laos.
“Friendship Tours World Travel is an educational tour and community service program focused in the countries of our former adversaries. Founded by teachers and students for students and teachers, we believe that educational travel should transcend ordinary tourism by engaging travelers with the living history and modern culture of peaceful nations once at war.”
Even more fortunate for Barbara and me is that we met 11 young adults, who have already developed an awareness of intellectual curiosity and exercised the act of social responsibility at a young age. They are Laguna Blanca students from Santa Barbara, California, USA. Their tour to Southeast Asia encompassed visiting the mine-torned country of Cambodia and the UXO-littered country of Laos. Their enthusiastic teachers Katy and Kevin joined the tour as well.
We were very happy to have them visit us. Barbara and I hosted them for some American fare (with a local Lao twist because of the available ingredients). We were surprised to learn about their knowledge of Laos and their awareness of what happened to Laos during the Secret War.
We were more surprised that they had personally worked hard at home to raise almost $2000 to help UXO victim families’ children with their education.
They also brought from home hard-to-get items for UXO victims, including Neosporin, Ben-Gay, ibuprofen and other pain relievers. They also brought clothes for the children in poor, remote villages.
We’d like personally thank and congratulate each one of them for their generosity and courage: Clarissa Coburn, Dalton Smith, Elise Scheurmann, Hughes Williamson, Milo Hensley, Lauren Conk, Nadia Belton, Ryan Green, Tiana Bonn, Tristan Prinz, and Vera Lopez.We are very proud of them. They should be recognized for their individual leadership, setting examples for their peers and American young adults.
In Vientiane, they spent time at the COPE Center and National Rehabilitation Center. They met a young boy, who foolishly and regretfully lost his hands and eye sight playing with a bombie in his home town in Vientiane Province.
They will be traveling to Xieng Khouang Province, which is the most bombed location per capita in the world. 2 millions of bombs were dropped. This included 260 million bombies during the USA’s Secret War in Laos. Most sadly is that 80 million of live bombies are resting somewhere to be discovered by some unsuspecting victim, who will be maimed or killed. Fortunately, the annual number of victims are dropping through ongoing education and UXO removal program efforts by the Lao government. As well, their UXO removal efforts continues to progress, as one of the country’s high priority.
In Xieng Khouang, they will be visiting Tham Pui Cave in Kham District, located about 35 miles east of the Xieng Khouang’s capital city Phonsavan. The students will also visit Thachok Village on their way back to Phonsvan. Thachok is a Hmong village. It is also known as the bomb village
Finally, the students will travel from Xieng Khouang to Luang Prabang by bus. The will spend their final days in SE Asia in Luang Prabang, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From there, they will return home to California, USA.
In closing, I want to thank the Laguna Blanca students for their leadership, maturity, their sacrifice of their free time to learn more about Laos. We hope that sometime in the future, they will come to visit us again. We appreciate their coming to visit Laos to learn about this very peaceful country and its very peaceful people. We appreciate their efforts to help the children of UXO victims in this war-torn country. Barbara and I felt blessed to meet such wonderful people: the students, the teachers Kevin and Katy, and Alethea. Korp chai lai lai. Ua Tsaug.