Published: November 29th 2010November 28th 2010
Bounchan two weeks after surgery
Isn't that one of the happiest sites you've ever seen? Look at that smile.
My friend Bounchan asked me for help last July. He's seventeen and he's been a novice monk at a local temple for four years, since he was thirteen. He's a skinny, tall kid with an angelic face and a sweet, lovely personality. He told me he has something called, niu maak khai lang, which after some research, I found out means "kidney stones". He's had constant pain for a year now. He can't eat spicy or sour foods, which comprise about 90% of Lao foods. The doctor said he needed surgery to remove the stones but they don't offer that surgery at the rudimentary Chinese Hospital in town.
Kidney stones are very common in Laos, I discovered through research (asking every local and foreigner I knew), as they can be a product of drinking unclean water, something a poor person in a Lao village often can't avoid. Most people are able to pass the stones naturally. But some people can't.
To get the stones removed he'd have to go 12 hours south to the capital, Vientiane. He told me the cost was 6 million kip for the average person, but the doctors would discount the price
Look at that scar.
Those Lao doctors are no plastic surgeons.
to 5 million kip for him because he's a novice monk.
5 million kip, a little over $600, is a large amount of money here. I was shocked that any surgery would cost that much in Laos. But when I asked some friends, they told me that he was getting a very good price. It could cost up to 10 million at a private clinic they said.
The average city worker makes 700,000 kip per month, about $86. Bounchan is a novice. He doesn't make any money. He's like an average high school kid in the US, but as a novice, he's also the people's carrier of Buddhist tradition for these teenage years of his life. He studies and he prays. Like the other novices, he gets up at 4:30 every morning to make the traditional rounds around town collecting the monk's food for the day, and then he attends school, studies, and does physical labor on the temple, surrounding structures and temple grounds. He comes from a notoriously poor town, Ban Ou, the site of the popular tourist destination, Pak Ou caves.
His mom died when he was 2 and his father then left the family
and remarried. He was raised by his older brother, a rice farmer, along with an older sister. It's possible his brother doesn't make 5 million kip in a year. So even if Bounchan was working now, instead of being a novice, he'd likely work with his brother, farming rice, and he would not have the money for the surgery.
But he's not complaining. Every time I saw him I asked him if he's in pain and he said yes. But he's never in a bad mood; he's consistently mild-tempered, eager to learn, eager to practice English, happy to see me. He's been to the doctor many times, and each time the doctor tells him that he has to go to Vientiane for help, that they can't help him in Luang Prabang. Bounchan showed me his x-ray; a set of tiny ribs and below that, on the right side of his stomach, six clear roundish stones, one as big as a quarter, the other five the size of a button.
He told me he would go to get the surgery in four months, when he finished school. I was so excited for him, I assumed he found a way
to get the surgery for free, or someone to pay. But when I asked him how he would pay he said, well, if I have the money, I will go in four months. If I don't have the money, maybe I can't go. With a smile! No tears, no sadness, just a smile.
So I left Laos soon after that, but I kept tabs on Bounchan.
And today he contacted me. He took the overnight bus to the hospital in Vientiane with his brother last night and saw the doctor this morning. He was told he needs major surgery to remove the stones. He was given medicine to take all week, told to stay in Vientiane, and booked for surgery this coming Friday. He was told the surgery will cost the equivalent of $620. If his brother sells his home, his animals and all his farming gear it will likely not equal $620. I am certain they cannot pay this bill. But Bounchan couldn't wait any longer so on Friday he will have the surgery. And then he and his family will receive the bill. This is what they are expecting. But they cannot pay the bill. And
it's unlikely the doctor will allow them to leave the hospital without paying the bill. I can't imagine what they will have to do. I honestly don't know how it will work. Bounchan needs the surgery and his family are expected to somehow pay this unimaginable fee.
So Bounchan reached out to me for help. And it's a lot easier for me to try to raise $620 than for this Lao kid to raise $620 so I said I'd do everything I could.
I know there are a million good causes to donate money to. But I know many of the readers of this blog have an attachment to Laos now, after reading copious amounts of my blogs about this place. This would be one small way to really help, after reading about all the terrible situations here, mostly endemic problems that will take years to change, this is one way that you can affect a life here, quickly and easily. Without our help, Bounchan will go on in pain.
If all the readers of this blog donate $5 or $10, Bounchan can get his surgery and go on with his life without pain, like a normal
seventeen year old kid should. Consider it an early Christmas present or a thank you for the informative entertainment provided by this blog over the past months.
If you can donate, please do so using this paypal link https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=10380064
Every penny will go to Bounchan, and it will go to him as soon as we've raised it, by Friday. I can Western Union it directly to him and his family in Vientiane.
As money is raised, I will post how much has been raised.
Thank you so, so much in advance!! Any amount you can give will make a huge difference for Bounchan.
I can donate $200, so that only leaves $420 to be raised. Another friend has already promised $50, so that only leaves $380. Three more friends have donated $275 so that leaves only $105 to be raised.
Tues morning: We've raised the money! Thank you so, so much. I will keep you all posted. I'm sending the money this morning.
Friday morning: He was to have the surgery this morning, (there it is now Friday evening). I'm waiting for news of how he's doing and will post
an update as soon as I find out.
Two weeks later: Bounchan had the surgery, spent a week in the hospital recovering, and is doing great. He is a little stiff but has no pain. He is a happy, happy guy. Thank you all so much. We changed this kid's life.
As an extra bonus, the hospital gave him an even larger discount than anticipated, for being a novice monk, so there was $180 leftover. We will start a bank account with this money, at a bank in Luang Prabang that Bounchan can walk to, in Bounchan's name, to ensure that he can always have checkups and be able to purchase the medicine he will need to stay healthy. Just incredible.
There are more photos below