Comfort through the free meal service camp, smile through the WeLoveU School

A hydroelectric dam by Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Power Company at Attapeu Province of Laos collapsed on July 23, 2018. Five hundred million tons of water flooded six lower towns, leaving more than 130 dead or missing and displacing about 6,000 people.

The Intl. WeLoveU Foundation set out to help damage restoration and comfort flood victims. The WeLoveU Laos Chapter carried out volunteer services in every way possible; it opened a free meal service camp, ran the WeLoveU School, conducted environmental cleanups around the refugee camp, installed and fixed drains, and offered hairstyling services. Around 17,000 man-days of the WeLoveU members volunteered for the services, sharing pain and joy with flood victims to overcome difficulties.

It takes seventeen hours on regular roads and one and a half hours on unpaved roads from Vientiane the capital city of Laos to Attapeu Province about 700 km away. Hearing about the disaster, many charity groups donated relief funds and goods, but they couldn’t decide easily whether to stay to serve the victims for a long time at the risk of frequent flooding.

The members of the WeLoveU Laos Chapter made a plan to support the victims with the heart of a mother. “We’d like to give hope and courage to the flood victims so that they may continue to live. If there’s someone who can comfort you more than anyone else when you’re scared and tired, it must be your mother,” they said.

When they assessed the needs at the disaster site, they found that the most urgent thing was meals. There were free meals provided by a couple of charity groups, but it was usually oily fried rice, which did not suit the locals’ palate and was thrown away. Children cooked instant noodles by pouring boiled water in plastic bags. Regular vehicles could not access to the site as roads were lost here and there. A nearby market was too small to provide enough food. Food prices rose suddenly, causing more troubles to the residents.

The WeLoveU decided to run a free meal service camp and went to the disaster site on August 2. The victims at the refugee camp were around 1,700 residents from Mai and Khok Kong, and about 1,800 from Tha Hin, Hin Lard, Tha Sengchan, and Samong. Every Sunday, the members brought clean and fresh food such as pork, chicken, and vegetables, from Pakse, 250 km away from the camp. They bought ingredients which were difficult to get on time or cooking charcoal from the locals. The Attapeu Province Disaster Headquarters helped deliver food with military trucks, Korean SK E&C supported with equipment, and Thai Off-road Club provided rice, eggs, vegetables, and lanterns.

The members of different ages from 10s to 50s served meals from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Two members from Thailand Chapter close to Laos came with one mind to help. A maximum of 2,000 people, more than 1,300 per day on average, visited the WeLoveU Free Meal Camp which began on August 2 and received warm and healthy meals. The locals welcomed the WeLoveU as it stayed for a long time and prepared clean food like family. The members also carried out various volunteer services like cleaning refugee camps, and installing and repairing drains. Children shouted, “WeLoveU!” whenever they saw the members.

For children, the WeLoveU began to have the WeLoveU School on August 6. “There were lots of kids at the free meal camp. Flood took away not only their houses and families but also their laughter. But nobody paid attention to those children and their hurt. Their parents were in despair. The children liked a lot when we showed some songs and dance moves, which made us think of the necessity of systematic educational program,” they explained how they opened the WeLoveU School.

There was a danger of infections as weather conditions were unfavorable continually, which called for hygiene education such as washing hands before and after meals, brushing teeth, waste sorting, and how to use restrooms. Former teachers, doctors, and event coordinators among the WeLoveU members made a plan for teaching English, manners, and hygiene. The teaching staff practiced dance moves and songs to bring back smiles and hope to the children.

The WeLoveU School was open from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The students had lunch and dinner at the WeLoveU Free Meal Service Camp, and the WeLoveU helped them go back to refugee camp after class. The participants were in the age range of kindergarten to the first year in middle school. Around one hundred children gathered on the first day, but later, 220 children headed for the WeLoveU School. Some children walked 2 km to take classes. That much it was well received.

Children gradually began to smile while copying the teachers’ dance moves and songs. They showed what they learned from the WeLoveU School to their parents. Anxiety, fear, and sorrow, which once filled the disaster site, turned to music and children’s laughter. Parents wiped their tears, seeing their children’s smiles. The children came to the WeLoveU School early in the morning, holding their parents’ hands, and the parents trusted the school.

The WeLoveU School began with small Bluetooth speakers, but the locals offered big speakers and mikes. Seeing the children’s fervor, the Sanamxay District Operation Headquarters provided three tents. Later, the Lao Government, the United Nations, and NGOs specialized in education opened a school together before the semester began that the children could receive lessons after the WeLoveU withdrew.

On hearing the news about the site’s regaining vigor, the journalists in and out of the nation came. “The Intl. WeLoveU Foundation, a large-scale volunteer service organization, is carrying out many different types of services for the flood victims such as free meal service, recovery efforts, repairing drains, arranging relief goods, and running the WeLoveU School for the kids,” KPL, a Lao News Agency, reported. The governor of Attapeu and the district mayor of Sanamxay awarded the WeLoveU certificates of recognition on the 29th and 30th. The certificate of recognition presented by Lerd Xayaphone, the Governor of Attapeu, reads, “Your volunteer services for the flood victims are meritorious. Your good deeds will be recorded in the history of our province.”

“What we needed most during the volunteer service was a safe place and psychological stability,” said a volunteer from the WeLoveU. He said people could not stop worrying about flooding at incessant rain and many had nightmares. In such a situation, hope and laughter was essential. Thanks to the children who regained smiles, the adults too took courage. The WeLoveU has brought comfort at the disaster site that they can continue to live with children, a byword for hope.