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Making an impact in the villages of Laos

Local Rotarian Steve Rutledge with just a few of the thousands of villagers he’s helped in Laos. (Photo submitted)

Laos is a landlocked country with a significant rural population.

The mountainous countryside makes it difficult to service the scattered population. The remote villages of Laos have never recovered from the ‘secret’ war of the 1960s and early-1970s. While rich in culture and tradition, their education, healthcare and hygiene conditions are severely lacking. The average lifespan is only 58 years and average age is only in the mid to late 20s, as a result of poor quality water, poor hygiene, and general poverty.

Steve Rutledge of Whitby is a unique individual who is single-minded when it comes to providing new clean water sources, education, hygiene training and toilets to villages in the rural regions of Laos.

Steve has been a Rotarian for 20 years and draws on support from local Rotary Clubs, in particular his home club of Whitby Sunrise as well as the Rotary Club of Oshawa-Parkwood.

In 2019, his program “Adopt a Village in Laos” is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

An amazing fact: To date the program has supplied pipelines and water filters to 35 villages, and more than 20,000 people.

Steve, along with volunteers from right here in Durham Region and also a group of Rotarians from Western Canada, has travelled each of the last nine years, to Laos to construct dams and a series of tubing, that, in essence, is a water system.

The group also provides sanitation facilities and education to villages that have never had fresh water.

The system captures water from distant mountain streams and pipes, flowing to nearby villages. The last project saw a seven km pipe installed by the volunteers and villagers.

Steve and the volunteers also distribute water filters which are made locally in Laos. Each water filter meets the water needs of a family of eight. The families who receive the filters must have one family member learn about hygiene as well as how to maintain the filter properly.

Some of the challenges that have been encountered by Steve and his group are unrest between villages and lack of trust towards those trying to provide education, and install water filters. Also changes to values in currency can alter the group’s purchasing power.

In other years, there has been damage to the piping due to bad weather, and also dams that needed repair. They are now hitting the first cycle of needing to replace original water filters as the filters have a 10 to 12 year lifespan. Each filter costs approximately $125 Canadian.

Along the way, the “Adopt a Village” project has found other ways to improve the lives of Laotian villagers. They have completed more than a dozen school projects, constructed a hospital and have built well over 20 toilet banks for schools and villages.

They are also sponsoring a number of primary and secondary school kids, one university student and two interns, plus have installed numerous solar panels to bring light to the poorest of villages.

Many bicycles have been distributed to get even more kids to and from school.

Steve even has dentists from here in Durham Region supply toothbrushes and toothpaste to be distributed with the water filters.

This is another example of Rotarians being “People of Action”. Steve Rutledge leads a program that provides clean water and sanitation, but the impact is greater, as it creates a reduction in infant mortality, improved general health, and longer lives for their elders.

Be sure to visit for information on donating or volunteering.