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"Building a Better Laos" - A Rare Look at the People & Culture of SE Asia

By: Bao Vang
By: Bao Vang

This week, we're giving our viewers a rare look at the people and culture of Laos, a third-world country in Southeast Asia.

U.S. soldiers were stationed there for years during the Vietnam War and got some help fighting in The Secret War by a hilltribe, known as the Hmong.

Many Hmong families, like mine, have immigrated to America since the mid-1970s -- 7,000 of them now live in Northcentral Wisconsin.

Yet, few of us know where they came from and why and will never make it to that part of the world to find out.

Sunrise 7 Anchor Bao Vang recently took her first trip to Laos and brings back a series of special reports.

The following is the first of her six-part series.

Halfway around the world, 13 hours ahead of central standard time, lies a small, but serene nation called Laos. The country consists of several mountain ranges and rivers, most notably the mighty Mekong.

It is a landlocked country with China and Burma to the northwest, Thailand to the west, Cambodia to the south and Vietnam to the east. it is the poorest and least developed nation of all Southeast Asia.

Virtually untouched by western influences, don't expect to see a Mcdonald's or Starbucks on any block in the country.

More than 60 ethnic groups call this home. Laos' population is just slightly higher than Wisconsin's at 6.5 million. And it's almost a third larger in square miles.

An average income grew to a little more than $1,000 a year, which amounts to about $3.00 a day. The life expectancy is 62, compared to America's 78.

The goal is to get all children educated through the 5th grade - although it's not being met in some areas.

Despite all that, the state of the communist country is slowly changing. Almost all families rich or poor have cell phones. And even while electricity is scarce, satellite dishes are installed on top of most homes.

It took many years after the Vietnam War for the government to open up its borders to foreigners in an effort to improve its poor economy.

But, the reality is it is still far from a modern world.

Those who are more fortunate are noticing and extending a hand. and the quality of life is improving. More children than ever are enrolled in school, more villagers have access to clean water and electricity and the life expectancy has been prolonged 10 years since the milenium.

It's just the beginning of building a better laos.

The Lao economy relies heavily on tourism, which is now the fastest growing industry.

When Bao was there in February of 2011, she met people from all over the world: England, Germany, Australia, Japan and America.

Bao will be sharing more stories in her "Building a Better Laos" series Monday through Wednesday this week.


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