Sabaidee, or hello if you prefer! My name is Christopher Tate and I am currently finishing my Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. As part of my degree I was required to undertake a period of work experience in the form of an internship in the engineering sector. This requirement, along with previous experiences in humanitarian engineering through Engineers without Borders Australia, led me to apply for an NCP (New Colombo Plan) Scholarship to allow me to continue to work in this sector. This NCP grant was to be used to fund a 5-week long internship abroad working on the ground with Abundant Water in Vientiane, Laos.
Abundant Water has been working as a non-profit organisation in Laos for over 10 years with the goal of improving access to clean drinking water for all members of society whilst simultaneously developing local skills. This is accomplished through the production of locally manufactured ceramic water filters and the development of innovative business models to support local communities in taking an active role in providing the clean drinking water. The impact Abundant Water has had within Laos has been immense, reaching over 26,000 people across 14 provinces, including some of the most remote communities across the country. Abundant Water looks to not only provide access to safe drinking water, but also to encourage community development. Thanks to support from the Australian Embassy in 2015-16, Abundant Water was able to distribute and install close to 800 filters for some of the poorest households in Laos. This initial distribution served to demonstrate the value of the filters and encourage continued uptake and use by other community members. New filters were then sold by local vendors who had been trained by Abundant Water, providing a sustainable income for the vendors and a sustainable water supply for the communities.
Recently Abundant Water has secured additional funding from the Australian Embassy through their Direct Aid Program. Thanks to the generous support of the Australian Embassy, Abundant Water will continue to support local communities by providing clean water in the form of over 500 free filters for the poorest households in five target districts in Vientiane and Oudomxay provinces over the next year. Additionally, Abundant Water has recently partnered with CARITAS Luxemburg to continue to expand their impact by bringing clean water to over 1,500 families in 100 target villages in Xieng Khouang province in rural northern Laos over the next 2 years.
During my time with Abundant Water I was working as a research intern with the goal of improving the efficiency of water filter testing procedures and investigating the performance of filters under real-world operating conditions. Within the role I gained insight into the operations of not-for-profit NGO’s and was able to work to provide real value to the organisation, such that they are able to improve the quality of their already amazing work in the future. I am eternally grateful for this amazing opportunity that I was been given, it was an experience I will never forget, and I know that I have come out a more developed person from it.
The NCP scholarship I received for this internship enabled my entire experience with Abundant Water in Laos. The support provided to me by the Australian Government has allowed me to travel to Laos and work in an environment unlike anything I would normally experience in Australia. Through this grant I have been able to apply the skills I developed during my degree and have been pushed beyond my usual comfort zone. This really allowed me to develop both personally and professionally as I experienced the culture and work environment in Laos. I am looking forward to bringing the new skills and perspectives I gained in Laos as a result of NCP support, back to Australia so that I can use these experiences to try and better the world into the future.
Beyond working with Abundant Water, I have had so many amazing experiences in Vientiane as well, from joining local sport competitions such as Ultimate Frisbee, to watching live music at local bars, and just generally experiencing the amazing food and interesting nightlife around the city. One of my favourite things about the city is the food as there is such an amazing diversity here, from local Lao noodles, to spicy Indian curries, to delicious French inspired bakeries, and even amazing Italian pizza. Another thing that struck me is how accommodating the local Lao people are; they will always do their best to help you in any way they can, even if the language barrier made things difficult at times.
During my time in Laos I was also lucky enough to escape to the countryside and experience the beautiful landscapes Laos has to offer. Trips to eco-resorts and towns such as Vang Vieng in the middle of the countryside gave me an opportunity to relax and truly appreciate the scope of the natural beauty of Laos. The biggest highlight of these out of town trips were the hikes and bike rides around the countryside. In particular, the hike to the Pha Ngern View Point in Vang Vieng stands out as one of the most amazing experiences of my trip. I had no expectations in the beginning, but this made the spectacular view at the end of the steep climb all the more special. If you ever come to Laos this is one experience you cannot let yourself miss.
It is hard to put into words just how amazing my entre experience in Laos has been. The work I have done with Abundant Water has helped me gain a greater understanding of how humanitarian NGO’s function and has allowed me to truly appreciate the scope of the good work they are doing. I hope that the work I have been a part of here contributes even in some small way to helping Abundant Water continue their mission to better the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Laos and surrounding regions.