Team Tong - a helping hand for a happy young girl

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February 4th 2012
Published: February 6th 2012
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Ting & TongTing & TongTing & Tong

lets lend a hand to a happy young girl.

In June 2011, Lorenza and I travelled to Laos and stayed with the family of one of my workmates. They live in a small village near the capitol Vientiane. The village is situated on the banks of the Mekong River and most of the residents earn their meagre living as farmers or farm labourers. They lead a simple lifestyle and supplement their diets with whatever can be provided from the Mekong, such as fish, snails, muscles, etc.

While we were in the village we saw a lot of village children playing and enjoying the start of their school holidays. The kids were all happily poking fun at the “falangs” (foreigners) who were watching their antics. We saw one young girl that was a bit left out and did not join the other kid’s games. We noticed she had a growth over her left eye.

We approached the village leader about the young girl and found out her name was Tong and that she came from a very poor family. The village leader took us to visit Tong’s family. We learnt that Tong was seven years old and her mother had died giving birth to her. She has
Tong & TingTong & TingTong & Ting

lets lend a hand to a happy young girl.
an older sister, Ting and both girls are now primarily cared for by their 82 year old grandmother. Their father works as an itinerant labourer on local rice farms and earns about $1 per day. He does his best to provide for his girls.

We took a few photos of Tong and the growth on her eye. We took these to a doctor at the Australian embassy to find out if there was anything that could be done about the condition. He was very helpful and gave us the details of an eye clinic in the Lao capital.

A few days later we took Tong to the clinic for an examination. We made the trip to the city with her father, her sister and a friend from the village. The girls had never been to the city before and were very excited, but also very nervous. The doctor at the clinic told us that the growth was a dermoid cyst. He said Tong had probably had the cyst on her eye since birth and he was not sure if her vision was ok or not, he also told us that she could not close the eye lid at all. He advised us that there were no hospitals in Laos with the facilities to remove the cyst, this type of operation would have to be done in Thailand where they have better medical facilities. Unfortunately, we had to return home before we could do any more.

Back home, we organised for Tong to be taken to a hospital in Udon Thani, Thailand to be examined by an eye specialist. This involved getting border passes for her and her father, getting permission for them to travel from Laos and then hiring a car and a driver to take them there and back. The town of Udon Thani has a good international hospital and is about a 2 hour drive from the village. Some of our friends chipped in to help us pay the travel costs and the fee charged by the specialist.

The specialist confirmed the original diagnosis and informed us that the cyst could be removed but the growth may have damaged Tong’s cornea. The specialist did say that the operation should be simple enough and that Tong would probably be left with her eye looking “milky” but close to normal. The specialist also said that she would at the least be a lot more comfortable being able to close the eye lid.

Since the initial examination by the specialist we have been trying to organise for Tong to be examined once more before the operation can be performed. This had not been simple because contact with the village is not always as easy as we may wish. Plus, the father finds it very hard to take time away from work to accompany Tong to Thailand. We will have this final check up completed as soon as possible and we are hoping the operation can be performed sometime in the next few months.

Fund Raising Lunch – Join “Team Tong”

In the meantime, we decided it would be good to try and get a few more people involved in this project. On Saturday 4th February we held a fundraising lunch at our home to enlist more members for “Team Tong”. The lunch was inspired by a traditional Lao banquet, and we were assisted by our friend from Tong’s village who lives here in Sydney.

The banquet included dishes such as Tom Yum soup, pork larp, beef salad with ginger and garlic, fish in banana leaf with spicy coconut sauce, plus green papaya and mango salads. All washed down with generous amounts of Beer Lao. Lao food is similar to Thai cuisine, with some regional variations.

On the day we managed to raise $1,500 to help pay for Tong’s operation.

A relatively simple operation like this can mean that a lot more opportunities are open to Tong in the future. Plus she is a beautiful young girl and we would like her to be as happy as possible in life.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to - Williana from Richmond Market Place Seafood for donating all the seafood for the lunch. Kurrajong Butchery for the discount price for the meat. Ly for donating the ingredients and making the fresh spring rolls (also called Summer Rolls). Our friend Sai for his help in the kitchen with the cooking and cleaning up.

In addition, we send a big thank you to everyone who attended on the day for joining “Team Tong” and wanting to make a difference in a young girl’s life. You are all champions!

Interested in joining?

If you are interested in joining “Team Tong” and helping us with this project please message us through Travelblog, use the private message button, and let us know.

Update 26/2/12

We have now raised a total of $2000 toward Tong's operation. The support of so many kind people has been wonderful. We will be returning to Laos to take Tong to the Hospital in Thailand. We have an appointment with the surgeon on 24th March 2012 for an assessment of what will be required and then the operation should be about one week later. We will keep you posted with any new developments.

(Thanks to Sandar for the photos)

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24


Beer LaoBeer Lao
Beer Lao

you could not have a Lao banquet without it!
Fish in Banana leavesFish in Banana leaves
Fish in Banana leaves

with spicy coconut sauce
Sticky RiceSticky Rice
Sticky Rice

you could not have a Lao banquet without this either!

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