Philanthropic Adventures in Laos

Robyn Salisbury
Robyn Salisbury

Robyn Salisbury’s life and stories could fill several books.

The Tamborine Mountain resident of 47 years is generous to the core and after meeting a young Laotian monk at a tourist temple in Thailand in 1999 she funnelled her generosity into supporting the people of Laos for 20 years.

“We met this smiling monk at the top of the temple where he had been sent to practice English. He was 21 and we just clicked,” she recalled.

Robyn and with her husband, John, later visited Bounmee at his village in Laos.

Knowing how poor they were Robyn told Bounmee she’d buy a truck load of chickens for the village.

“When he was younger, he said he’d had to eat rats and the bark off the tree,” she explained of her reasons for buying chickens.

“But, he said, ‘if you want to help my village you have to give them education’.”

Arriving at Bounmee’s village was a shock. 

“His family was the poorest family in the whole village. Their bamboo house had a dirt floor with stones in a circle to cook on, no running water, electricity or bathroom.”

In 2000 John suggested the best way for Bounmee to further his desire to learn English was to come to visit them.

And in 2002, with no children of their own, the couple asked him to become part of their family and adopted him. 

Robyn’s first project in Laos was to build a bridge to allow the villagers to leave the village which was cut off during the wet season. 

The Rotary Club of Tamborine Mountain and Bob Sowter got on board to raise the funds and build the bridge, transforming the villages’ lives.

She went on to provide education material for hundreds of children and teachers and start four schools after having sat in a paddock to teach kids.

“There was a gorgeous little school we went to and there was a big hole in the blackboard, and they were writing around the hole,” she said.

Through the financial help of mountain residents, Robyn saved the lives of many, including a little girl who would have died from tetanus if she didn’t get the $110 treatment. Robyn then went on to get the whole village vaccinated.

“I’ve always been a person who has liked doing things for other people,” she said modestly.

“It was thrilling to have the power to provide people with the tools to help their students, just basic things. We always took a ball to the school because they had nothing to play with.”

Bounmee is now married to Nouk and lives on the Gold Coast with his two daughters.

Robyn hasn’t been back to Laos since the pandemic, instead, she has chosen to devote her time to her grandchildren and her love of the mountain.