Labour of love turns to women’s busi­ness for pair

Tweed jour­nal­ists Trish and Iain con­tinue their in­cred­i­ble Laos jour­ney

Tweed Daily News - - LIFE BIG READ - Nikki Todd nikki.todd@tweed­dai­lynews.com.au

❝They

wash their own cloth­ing, clean the dor­mi­tory, and even grow their own veg­eta­bles to eat...

— Iain Fin­lay

WHAT started as a work­ing trip to Laos al­most 10 years ago has be­come a labour of love for for­mer for­eign cor­re­spon­dents Iain Fin­lay and Trish Clark.

The in­trepid trav­ellers, who live in north Tum­bul­gum when they are back in Aus­tralia, are well known to Aus­tralian au­di­ences for their role as founders of the Be­yond 2000 TV show, Iain as pre­sen­ter and Trish as pro­ducer.

The pair re­cently re­turned from Laos, where they have just com­pleted the build­ing of a dor­mi­tory to house stu­dents at­tend­ing the re­mote Kok­tum Mid­dle School, in the jun­gles of Luang Probang prov­ince.

Funds for the dor­mi­tory, which opened in April, were raised by Iain and Trish, with much of their sup­port com­ing from the Tweed as well as fur­ther afield via the screen­ing of their doc­u­men­taries on Laos.

“The idea for the dor­mi­tory came af­ter we were asked by Prin­ci­pal Khamla, who heads the Kok­tum Mid­dle School, to help build the dor­mi­tory,” Iain re­called this week.

“This will help keep the stu­dents at school. When chil­dren turn 12 in the area, many of them drop out of school be­cause their vil­lages are too far away to get to mid­dle school.

“This en­ables them to walk about 15km to school from var­i­ous di­rec­tions on a Sun­day af­ter­noon, to spend the week in the dor­mi­tory.

“They wash their own cloth­ing, clean the dor­mi­tory, and even grow their own veg­eta­bles to eat.”

The new dor­mi­tory is big enough to sleep 68 chil­dren, sep­a­rated in half for girls and boys.

Two ad­di­tional rooms were also built to ac­com­mo­date the teach­ers. Pre­vi­ously, many of the teach­ers were liv­ing in a tin shed in “shock­ing con­di­tions” near the school house.

“The con­struc­tion was amaz­ing to see,” Iain said.

“We didn’t live on site but vis­ited ev­ery few days to watch it be­ing built.”

The dor­mi­tory has al­ready seen the school ex­pand from its orig­i­nal size of around 200 stu­dents.

But for Iain and Trish, the jour­ney is not yet over.

The cou­ple, who trav­elled ex­ten­sively with their work span­ning more than 50 years in the me­dia, re­turned to Laos about 10 years ago to up­date their books.

Asked to help a young stu­dent with his English, their friend­ship with Chan­thy led them to his home vil­lage of Nalin.

Soon they found them­selves help­ing to build a road to make their vil­lage more ac­ces­si­ble. That then led to the build­ing of a school and a project to farm buf­faloes and pigs, be­fore the dor­mi­tory project was born.

Now Trish has set her sights on a new goal: de­vel­op­ing a Women’s Busi­ness Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence to help en­sure the ex­quis­ite em­broi­dery skills of the lo­cal women prac­tised for cen­turies - are not lost in this time of rapid change.

“These amaz­ing skills will be lost un­less some­thing is done to pave the way to save them,” Trish said.

“There are about 50 dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups in the re­gion. If we can start off with just one or two eth­nic groups we can ex­pand to more.”

The cou­ple plan to raise funds to pay stu­dents and teach­ers to at­tend the cen­tre, build­ing an el­e­ment of pres­tige to en­sure its at­trac­tion.

“This is not about money or sell­ing their prod­ucts, it is about be­lief in self,” Trish said.

“We need to save our cul­ture, our her­itage. It needs to be heart to heart, peo­ple need to feel it.”

To find out more about the Women’s Busi­ness project, con­tact Trish at iain­tr­ish@mac.om

PHOTO: NIKKI TODD

IN­SPIR­ING: Trish Clark with a piece of mag­nif­i­cent em­broi­dery by young Laos woman Meryn­guyen, whose hand­i­work has been de­scribed as of 'mu­seum-like' qual­ity. This amaz­ing work has in­spired Trish to do what she can to help en­sure such skills are not lost.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

Meryn­guyen's em­broi­dery is de­scribed as of 'Mu­seum qual­ity' for its su­perb hand­i­work. Trish and Iain Fin­lay are now work­ing to­wards set­ting up a Women's Busi­ness Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence in Laos to help pre­serve these amaz­ing cul­tural skills.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

The fin­ished prod­uct: The dor­mi­tory at Kok­tum Mid­dle School was of­fi­cially opened in April, af­ter a three-month build.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

Trish Clark and Iain Fin­lay out­side the dor­mi­tory they helped build in re­mote Laos.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

Iain Fin­lay helps dur­ing con­struc­tion of the dor­mi­tory at Kok­tum Mid­dle School in Laos.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

Plaques on bunks to thank those who do­nated funds to help build the dor­mi­tory.

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