In 2006, while volunteering in the eco-tourism industry in Bokeo province, Paddy Dadson came to know and befriend many of the residents of Ban Toup village, a quaint community of several hundred people who belong to the Hmong hill tribe. Ban Toup is largely comprised of subsistence farmers, most of whom live in basic mud floor, grass roofed huts built in the traditional Hmong style.
Paddy began to realize that despite the significant attention that had been given to environmental conservation, agriculture, and resource management by the international development community in Bokeo province, there was a serious need for a small-scale, direct approach to improve health and living conditions among the local people. He began to research safe and hygienic designs for improved sanitation and found that a UN-approved pour-flush latrine could be constructed for as little as 200 dollars. Paddy had a sudden realization – with a relatively small amount of money, he could help create a significant, concrete improvement in the lives of the Ban Toup villagers. All he needed to do was put the time in to make it happen. With that spark, he went to work; The first BDF fundraiser was held in Perth, Australia. Paddy organized local bands to entertain the guests and raised around $1400.
With that initial capital, the supplies for the first 7 toilets could be purchased. However, Paddy learned quickly that community development is far more complex than simply providing material resources. Building toilets for a village is only useful if the community truly desires them; without a widespread understanding of the health and safety benefits of improved sanitation, there is often no desire in traditional communities to create an Open Defecation Free (ODF) environment. Getting the message out is key – only once people understand the benefits of improved sanitation will they get on board, take personal ownership of the project, and become an advocate for change. Once people see and understand the benefits, any reluctance evaporates and collective enthusiasm for improved sanitation spreads like wildfire.
Because of his humanistic leanings, outgoing manner, and knack for picking up local languages, Paddy was able to hone an approach to community development through on-the-ground experience that parallels the cutting-edge of academic approaches to international development. BDF’s work is consistent with the Community-Led-Total-Sanitation (CLTS) movement that is being implemented with great success by large-scale NGOS in India, Bangladesh, Africa, and the Middle East. While other BDF volunteers-to-be (the author included) were spending their time learning about how development should be done in theory from textbooks and professors, Paddy was figuring it out through a simple method – discerning through discussion and hard work which approaches truly help people and which don’t. He settled on a simple formula: Treat people with respect, and work together to build knowledge and resources to benefit the community as a whole.
The Bokeo Development Fund is a unique and effective organization that grew from one man’s earnest desire to help into a trusted international NGO and registered Canadian charity. This success is owed largely to the level of commitment and personal dedication demonstrated by Paddy. His enthusiasm has rubbed off on an ever-growing network of volunteers, fundraisers, and advocates for cleaner, healthier living in Laos!