'A difficult yet beautiful life,' and a school without walls in Laos

Local musicians are putting on a concert tonight raising money to build walls at an elementary school in Laotian village. The project grew from an eye-opening trip to Asia by Visqueen lead singer Rachel Flotard.

Crosscut archive image.

The Ban Na Muang elementary school in Laos.

Local musicians are putting on a concert tonight raising money to build walls at an elementary school in Laotian village. The project grew from an eye-opening trip to Asia by Visqueen lead singer Rachel Flotard.

Tonight a bit of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon will come to Capitol Hill during the second annual "Footlaos" fundraiser. 

Named after Bacon's 1984 movie "Footloose," the event aims to raise money for Ban Muang Elementary School in Laos, and it combines the flare of the hit musical with the compassion of Seattle’s music community.

The show is the brainchild of Rachel Flotard, leader of the Seattle rock band Visqueen, and her friend Justin Nonthaveth. Their goal is to raise enough money to build walls for the school, which houses 370 students.

Footloas grew out of a trip Flotard took to Laos with Nonthaveth, whose family lives there, after the death of her father in 2008.  

Nonthaveth “spoke about the village where they live in southern Laos, and what a difficult yet beautiful life they lead. I wanted to stretch myself, and step out of my comfort zone at a time where my world was already upside down," Flotard, now 38, said. "The experience completely righted me.”

While in Laos, Flotard visited a local elementary school in Ban Na Muang village and brought things such as pens, pencils and medical supplies to the school and children. It reinvigorated her after she had been dealing with the loss of her father. 

“I visited them six months or so after my dad died. They do not speak English and I do not speak Laotian but I was crying when I left. I did not want to leave. I was moved by how little you can have physically and how much you can have in love with your family,” she said. “I needed a wakeup call after (my father’s) death and this totally reinvigorated me. That trip, plus my father, kickstarted my life again.” 

Her visit to the village and school was such a positive experience that she made plans to return in 2009. She asked the children what they wanted her to bring them from the U.S., and initially they requested soccer balls. She asked them to think bigger than soccer balls and the children responded by asking for a paved floor for their school, which at the time had dirt floors, and the idea for "Footloas" was born.   

The first "Footlaos" took place last year and was in the form of a dance party with DJs playing '80s music. Enough money was raised to pay for a floor as well as medical and school supplies for the children. Because it was a grassroots effort and no third parties were involved, Flotard was able to make sure all of the money went directly to the school.  

“We had sent along the money to Justin's family, who organized the construction. Without them, this would be impossible. Because of the weather and timing, the floor had to be installed before we got there which was amazing, because we could see the project finished,” Flotard said. “It was incredible. And we hand-delivered it. It didn't have to pass through uncertain hands. I saw those kids get a floor; the year before, it was dirt. And we did that on our own.” 

Flotard said on her return trip to the school last year the children asked for walls. She cannot make the trip to Laos this year, but Nonthaveth will return on Dec. 23 and deliver all of the money raised from tonight’s event so it can be used for medical and school supplies as well as the construction of walls for the school. 

For this year’s "Footlaos," several local musicians from various bands including Curtains for You, Hallways, and Loaded will perform covers of '80s songs, as well as selections from the "Footloose" soundtrack, at the Comet Tavern. At the same time, a dance party down the street at Sole Repair will feature DJs spinning cuts from the '80s. There also will be bacon-themed appetizers provided by Tom Douglas restaurants as a tongue-in-cheek nod to "Footloose" star Kevin Bacon.  

If you go: "Footlaos 2" begins at 8 p.m. at the Comet Tavern, 922 E. Pike St., and at Sole Repair, 1001 E. Pike St. A $10 cover gets you into both venues.

Here's a video of  of Flotard delivering school supplies to one of the classrooms in 2008, during her first trip to Laos:


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