Labour of love turns to women’s business for pair
Tweed journalists Trish and Iain continue their incredible Laos journey
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
The finished product: The dormitory at Koktum Middle School was officially opened in April, after a three-month build.
Trish Clark and Iain Finlay outside the dormitory they helped build in remote Laos.
Iain Finlay helps during construction of the dormitory at Koktum Middle School in Laos.
Plaques on bunks to thank those who donated funds to help build the dormitory.