Deep in the tropical jungle poverty-stricken villagers struggle up steep, muddy river banks carrying heavy buckets of water to the flimsy huts where they live. The river is their only source of drinking water and the arduous journey must be endured several times a day. This painful image remained imprinted on Kitty Tsang's mind for weeks after the 20-year-old student returned from her educational trip to Laos in February. Ms Tsang and fellow Chinese University student Carson Lai travelled to the land-locked southeast Asian country with the poverty relief and development organisation World Vision Hong Kong. Their purpose was to work on a project that aims to teach subsistence farming and aquaculture skills to the local population. 'It took three flights and a three-hour bus ride for us to reach the remote villages in Pakxeng in northeastern Luang Prabang province,' said the Year Two cultural studies student. Upon arrival, what struck the two youngsters most was the extreme poverty afflicting the local population. 'They live in rickety bamboo huts. The fields were lying fallow at the time of our visit, and most of the families we visited were suffering from a severe shortage of food,' said Ms Tsang. She was particularly shocked by the story of a family deserted by its father. 'They told me their rice could at most last one more week. The disillusioned and poverty-stricken father left his wife and daughters,' she said. The objective of the venture is to empower the indigenous people to fend for themselves; not to hand out charitable donations. 'World Vision has helped the villagers construct a pond near their houses and has taught them how to rear fish. Some of the stock is eaten by the locals and the remainder is sold in the market,' Ms Tsang explained. 'The key to breaking out of the vicious cycle of poverty is teaching the poor self-subsistence skills.' Mr Lai also felt the trip gave him valuable lesson in life, despite the harsh conditions. 'The poverty there is heartbreaking. Hong Kong people have many material comforts whereas children in Laos don't even know where their next meal will come from.'