Saravan Province, Novemberricehandover 15, 2013.

The Theun-Hinboun Power Company (THPC) has given 10 tonnes of rice towards disaster relief efforts, following the serious floods that occurred in Laos’s southern provinces during October.

THPC Chairman Dr Khammany Inthirath handed over the rice to provincial authorities in Saravan, accompanied by Mr Bounoum Syvanpheng, Chairman of THPC’s major shareholder, EDL-Generation. The rice was received by Deputy Governor of Saravan, Mr Sysouvanh Vongchomsy, for distribution to families badly affected by the flooding.

Mr Khammany said that while residents of the THPC hydropower plant area in Khammouane and Bolikhamxay provinces had mainly been spared bad weather during the recent storms, many communities in the southern provinces had lost much of the rice they had planted and would be dependent on outside help for the next few months.

He said that as a company committed to national development, THPC had heeded the call of the National Disaster Management Committee to help people in the southern provinces. The donated rice, worth over 53 million kip, will be distributed to flood-affected villages in the coming days by provincial authorities.

At the end of September, Managers and Team Leaders from the Theun-Hinboun Power Company’s Operations and Maintenance Division (OMD) became the second group of THPC staff to complete leadership and management training with Vientiane-based firm Enterprise and Development Consultants.DSC02377

The six-day course was conducted over three separate two-day modules in July and September 2013, with the final session held away from site at a Vientiane hotel.The trainers used short lectures, group discussions, case studies and participant feedback to introduce and explore a variety of management techniques to the staff. The OMD teams were joined by representatives of the Corporate Affairs and Corporate Support Services departments, making a total of 17 THPC personnel benefitting from the company’s policy of upgrading professional skills.

The first module introduced basic concepts of management and leadership, emphasizing that leadership is not defined by a person’s position, but rather by qualities that can be learned and developed. The session also explored concepts such as emotional intelligence and change management, with the trainer providing a simple action plan to for the participants to implement back in their daily jobs. In module 2 the THPC staff then shared how they had applied these lessons in real work situations. This module also featured the topics of “effective teams”, “effective communication”, assertiveness and “feed-backing”. 

Following discussion of the concept and principles of delegation and team coaching, participants came up with individual action plans to improve their leadership and managerial competencies. On their return in module 3, they again shared their experiences in applying these action plans on the job. The final session also provided an opportunity to explore methods of motivation andproblem-solving techniques.

Course evaluation by participants showed most of the trainees found the course good and some thought it excellent. EDC’s trainers meanwhile recommended that participants should keep their learning momentum going by extending their knowledge to others in their departments, and by sharing their progress with Social and Environmental Division colleagues, who have already undertaken the same training.

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On August 30 2013, the Education for Development Fund (EDF-Lao) handed over more than 2,500 sets of school textbooks for disadvantaged primary school pupils in Sekong Province. Present at the ceremony were representatives of THPC, which donated US$1,000 to EDF’s Books to Schools Project in 2013.
The handover ceremony marked the end of the third year of the EDF-Lao Books to Schools Project, which runs from March-July annually. This year 2,506 students received a textbook set, comprising books for Lao language, Mathematics and the World Around Us subjects. The goal is to ensure that primary school children have their own sets of books, encouraging them to develop reading and study skills at an early age. The project also brings sets of the textbooks plus six teaching manuals to primary school teachers. 
This year marked the first time the project has appealed to a Lao domestic audience, and EDF-Lao were impressed by the response of local people, businesses and media organisations. Total donations to the project came to over 100 million kip in cash, plus in-kind contributions of fuel, textbooks and other school supplies.
Ms Jamie Bounleuth, Public Relations and Fund Raising Manager for EDF-Lao thanked THPC for the generous donation, saying that without such support the project would not have been a success. THPC’s General Manager, Mr Robert Allen, said THPC was happy to support initiatives for the future of Lao children, adding that education was vital to the continued growth and stability of the country and also to the long-term performance of Lao companies of such as THPC. 

book handover ceremony
Photos courtesy of EDF-Lao

nogxong school sanitation activityOctober 2013                                 Nongxong Village, Bolikhamxay, Lao PDR

At the blast of a whistle, a large assembly of schoolchildren disperses and groups of teenagers begin running in different directions, many of them giggling and all of them holding sticks topped with homemade white flags. The children know where they are going but don’t want to be followed – their purpose is to publicise a normally very private activity.

The assembly and flags are part of a Community-Led Total Sanitation drive organised in Ban Nongxong, a village in Bolikhamxay Province in central Laos. Many of the children belong to families that moved to Nongxong in 2009, resettled as part of the Theun-Hinboun Hydropower Expansion Project. As well as providing new houses, land and livelihoods programs, the Theun-Hinboun Power Company (THPC) has installed a clean water supply in the village plus toilets for each house. It also built a school and health centre to contribute towards better health conditions for the residents.

However, monitoring of communities by the THPC Public Health Team reveals that two years after moving to their new villages and amenities, many people in Nongxong still suffer from the health problems traditionally common in the Lao countryside: diarrhoea, respiratory diseases and under-nutrition due to both poor diet and parasitical infections.

Dialogue with communities shows that despite the new facilities, the villagers’ everyday behaviour often continues to be as it was in the old settlements. Specifically, many people do not use their new toilets, and nor do they use their new water supplies or food production options in a way that will improve their health. In response THPC has begun pilot programs in Nongxong to help people benefit from the facilities. Cooking classes for mothers have been introduced along with food-growing advice to improve nutrition, while the Community-Led Total Sanitation Initiative launched in partnership with Lao government and non-governmental agencies is helping people adapt to their new surroundings.

In Mnogxong_school_latrineay 2013 a team comprising staff from THPC, the Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC) and the National Centre of Environmental Health and Water Supply (Nam Saat) began working with small groups of villagers to explain the consequences of not using the latrines. In October, the approach was expanded to include the village school, which is why the children of Nongxong are planting flags around the borders of their playing field.

About ten minutes after leaving with their flags the children return to the assembly point. They are still laughing, but are now without the flags, which have been planted in the bushes surrounding the school. Other flags have been posted around the school toilet block, but there is some confusion about the significance of this: while the toilets appear modern and even pleasantly decorated from the outside, their doors are barred with padlocks and it seems unlikely that the students have used them recently.

Locked school latrines are a common problem in Laos. Teachers despair at the poor condition that pupils leave toilets in, and lock them in protest. Children are then forced to defecate and urinate in bushes around the school, a situation that can affect the health of everyone concerned. A teacher at the school, Mr Phatphouthone Manivong, says the children want to use the toilets but do not leave them clean. The teachers organised a cleaning roster, with each class responsible for looking after the toilets for a week at a time, but despite this the condition of the latrines is generally so poor that it is “better to keep them locked”.  

After the flag activity the children and teachers separate into groups and play connecting games, which graphically show the consequences of poor sanitation habits. It becomes clear to everyone that flies transmit bacteria from human waste to human food, leading to the health problems that are so common in the village.CDS3

“It’s good that these experts have come here to talk to us today,” says Miss Mee, a thirteen-year old girl at the school. “They have been explaining the connection between food hygiene and going to the toilet in the proper place. This is very important in our village. If we can improve hygiene then we will all be more healthy and able to enjoy better lives”.

Mee’s friend, a 14-year-old boy named Saysamone, agrees, but thinks a solution requires better organisation at the school. “Right now there aren’t enough toilets and those we have are not clean enough. Sometimes the teachers forget to open the toilets because they don’t want the kids to make them dirty, so you have to ask for the key. It’s quicker and easier to go into the bush.”

According to Vongtavanh Muangchanh, Youth Development Officer for PADETC and the team leader for activities at Nongxong, the situation at the school is typical for rural Laos. He says there are three main issues governing the behaviour of the children and the teachers. Firstly, awareness of the importance of using toilets is not high. Secondly, knowledge of how to manage assets such as toilets is low. Finally, there is a lack of institutional instruction on the whole issue.

After playing the connect game the children and their teachers return to their classrooms, where question and answer sessions reinforce the messages behind the exercise. Vongtavanh and the team will stay in Nongxong for a whole week, conducting activities with other groups in the village but also following up on the school as a vital institution in the community.

After todayCDS4 the teachers understand the importance of the situation and the children’s behaviour a little better, he says. “We will work with the teachers and some student volunteers to create a plan to better manage the toilets. We collect ideas from the pupils about what they think would be a perfect system, and some of these will be practical. In addition we will recommend to parents and the village authorities that they build extra toilets at the school”.

Vongchanh explains that this work helps create demand for better access to toilets and that this demand can ensure the supply of a solution. “If you build a facility but the users don’t understand the need for it, it will not work” he says. “The people of Nongxong are now starting to understand the need for community sanitation”.

For the THPC team the expertise provided by PADETC and Nam Saat is valuable. “We can link this to community-led sanitation efforts in the village and to our nutrition and livelihoods programs,” says Ms Thepphasone Chanthavong, WASH and Nutrition Senior Officer for THPC. “By improving hygiene and eating habits, we can help people get more advantage from the facilities that the company has provided, and so ensure that their health really improves”.

     Update: Nongxong declared "Open Defecation Free Village" - June 2014

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stafftrainIMG 7870Line Managers and Team Leaders from the Social and Environmental Division have completed a leadership and management training program, becoming the first THPC staff to benefit from the company’s drive to upgrade professional skills.

Fifteen SED staff attended the six-day course over three separate two-day modules in May and June 2013. Conducted by Vientiane-based firm Enterprise and Development Consultants, the training aimed to increase management knowledge and skills so that line managers can more effectively lead their teams.

The first module encouraged participants to analyse their own management experiences so that they could identify their core skills and weaknesses, while the second session presented methods of communicating with and leading teams. The final two days of training explored problem-solving skills and ways of motivating colleagues in different situations.

Training methods included lectures, experience sharing, case studies, group exercises and question-and-answer sessions. SED Deputy Manager Ms Surapha Viravong said the course had proven very useful, allowing the division’s managers to exchange opinions and to look at their work from new perspectives.

THPC’s Human Resources (HR) Team is planning a series of training programs as the company invests in the development of its staff. The next planned course will focus on leadership and management skills for the Operations and Maintenance Division, and this will be followed by training on project management and technical skills for different divisions.

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