Plainfield resident Michael Alfaro embarked on a two-week trip to Laos Friday in an effort to assist families after a dam collapse in the Attapeu province July 23.
Six villages in Laos, a country in southeastern Asia, have experienced flash floods as a result of the collapse, media outlets reported. It is estimated that at least 20 people were killed, with more than 100 people missing and more than 6,000 becoming homeless.
When Alfaro heard of the disaster, he knew he had to go.
“I have four kids, I have my house getting done, and my wife really broke down and cried,” Alfaro said. “But I was like, ‘I need to be there.’ ”
Alfaro is working with the Jai Lao Foundation, a nonprofit charity organization that aims to help children in Laos’ rural villages. The foundation had raised about $75,000 for Laos through its website, jailao.org, as of Thursday afternoon, Alfaro said.
He said the money will be divided among village chiefs for materials such as generators, nets and cooking supplies.
“Not one volunteer is collecting a paycheck. We’re paying for our own accommodations,” Alfaro said. “Everything is out of our own expense.”
Alfaro said the Laotian government has worked with the foundation, despite visa sanctions the U.S. imposed July 10 on Laos and Myanmar.
“They know we go to the toughest places, and we don’t care about the politics, we just care about the need,” Alfaro said.
There are about 500 families native to Laos living in Will County, Alfaro said. He said many haven’t heard from family members abroad, leaving them wondering whether their loved ones survived the disaster.
“I’m going to ask to be on a search and rescue team,” Alfaro said. “I’ll be going and looking for the children.”
Alfaro said local families reached out to him with requests for him to find their family members.
When local contractors working on his home heard about Alfaro’s trip, they told him he could pay them back whenever he could with no interest.
“That, to me, is the heart of Will County,” Alfaro said. “That just gives me so much more excitement and encouragement.”
Alfaro said he plans to work nonstop.
“I’m just a regular guy. I was not the smartest apple in the tree,” Alfaro said. “I’m just really touched by all the people coming together.”