National Geographic : 1968 Dec
For a time, freedom from want SMILES BESPEAK the gratitude of refugees in Phu Hae in northeastern Laos. Rice has been dropped froN1,000 feet in new plastic bags-tough, water proo, and almost as welcome as the food itself. Inspecting the bags to see how they withstood the drop is Edgar "Pop" Buell, left, of the United States Agency for International Development. He has spent the past eight years tending the homeless and helpless of northern Laos. Photographer Garrett, long a friend of Mr. Buell's, flew with him to the village and saw the extraordinary rapport he enjoys with refugees. "The people were afraid of the Lao-Viets just be yond the ridge," recalls Mr. Garrett, "so they had put up only temporary shelters. They had refused Pop's offer of a sawmill; it would have made it possible for them to build permanent houses, but then the Com munists would surely come. They wanted instead to move to the main settlement center of Sam Thong. "Pop called a meeting. It went on for hours. Speak ing fluent Lao, he used local jargon and invoked local customs to convince them they should stay. The peo ple claimed there was a bad phi in the village and that they had offended it. Pop admitted there might be a bad phi in Phu Hae, but insisted there were two bad spirits in Sam Thong. Besides, Sam Thong was over crowded, and the people there smoked opium and didn't care about their children. The refugees should stay in the village, not run from the Lao-Viets, and make permanent homes and a new life for themselves. To do this, they should build a school and a dispen sary, and he, Pop, hoped to see the buildings finished the next time he came to Phu Hae." They agreed to stay. Next morning the Meo butch ered a pig for Pop as a sign of continuing friendship. After Mr. Buell's conference, Donald Dougan held sick call. Here he examines a youngster suffering from a respiratory infection, common among hill people. The boy's father steadies his son's head. Mr. Dougan, a former U. S. Special Forces medical corpsman, has trained dozens of hill people to treat fellow villagers.