Blog: Aeroplan travels to Laos

As an extension of the loyalty program’s Beyond Miles CSR efforts, employees join Veterinarians Without Borders in the field.

In the first of a two-part series, Christa Poole, manager of external communications, Aeroplan, shares her experiences travelling to Laos with Veterinarians Without Borders.

‘Sabaidee’ (or ‘hello’) is called out from the many smiling faces found in the country of Laos. I just embarked on a 10-day adventure with a few fellow Aeroplan employees and our Beyond Miles charitable partner Veterinarians Without Borders (VWB) to the country of Laos PDR.
Aeroplan has a initiative in which each year it partners with its nine Beyond Miles charitable organizations to offer employee engagement trips. These trips were created to inspire Aeroplan employees by helping them experience the incredible work that our Beyond Miles partners do across the world and to see how they use Aeroplan Miles to support their efforts.
This trip provides us the opportunity to see first-hand how VWB is working with local communities to build sustainable programs that address an important gap in animal health services and expertise in Laos. Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world with about half of the population living on less than $1.25 a day and, although approximately 50 percent of Laotians support themselves through backyard poultry and small-scale livestock rearing, the country has very few veterinarians and no national vet curriculum.
We’re here to visit a VWB project called the Village Ecohealth and Veterinary Extension Project as well as visit another project VWB supports called ElefantAsia, a non-profit organization dedicated towards the conservation and protection of the Asian elephant.

After almost 30 hours of flying, we made it to the capital city of Vientiane, Laos, where we met up with the VWB crew we were to shadow for the trip. From there we took another flight to Luang Prabang; located in north-central Laos and the former capital of the Kingdom, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This town is filled with beautiful textiles, interesting wats (temples) and a great night market, and is an amazing example of traditional Laos architecture. It’s known for its daily morning alms ritual in which hundreds of Buddhist monks line up on the main street to receive their alms mostly in the form of rice offerings.

It was here that we had the honour of joining up with ElefantAsia to witness their mobile vet clinic in action on some of the local elephants from surrounding village communities. We watched them microchip and deworm both working logging elephants as well as those mainly used for tourism purposes. It was amazing to see the way the local mahouts (or elephant shepherds) guide their elephants as well as to see just how ElefantAsia’s efforts are helping to rebuild the Asian elephant population. VWB has teamed up with ElefantAsia to start preliminary work on an elephant saddle project to encourage safe saddle practices on elephants in Laos.
We were joined by Anne Drew, a VWB volunteer vet from Nova Scotia, and her husband Thom, a goat farmer and excellent aide to the VWB team. They helped ElefantAsia with their procedures on six elephants in two different communities that day. Anne, a woman with incredible spirit and drive and an enthusiastic personality, has been in Laos as a volunteer vet for the past three months and this is her third time volunteering with VWB.
Anne believes that the saddle project can help make a difference on the health of an Asian elephant by helping to reduce neck and back injuries as well as infections and other ailments through the use of an aluminum saddle instead of the traditional wood, bark and blankets currently used.
Stay tuned for part two of our journey in Laos where we visit some of VWB’s local villages that participate in the Ecohealth project.

For more information about VWB or to join Aeroplan in donating Aeroplan Miles to VWB, visit www.aeroplan.com or www.vwb-vsf.ca.