Laos has been an adventure for me emotionally, physically and spiritually. It’s one of my first times in a developing country and I’ll talk more on that later. It’s just really been an eye opening experience that has allowed me to reflect upon my life and figure out more what I want to do.
I’m an anthropology student and lately I’ve been thinking the question of how can I help the people and cultures I love. If I further my studies in anthropology I can preserve cultures and maybe resurrect some. I might be able to understand human behaviour more or why life is so different or similar around the world. Another path I could take and in fact I plan to take, even if its as an in-between bachelor’s and graduate school thing is teaching English.
Teaching English is something that has appealed to me for a while. But I’ve always though, man would I be confident enough? Would I be awkward? How would I get through the language barriers? I think about how teaching in somewhere completely foreign to me would help me with my career in anthropology and maybe I could learn a language or two.
This banter is with reason though. Yesterday I had my first experience on teaching English in two senses: teaching myself and watching another teacher in a Lao orphanage. I would like to introduce you all to a wonderful program called Big Brother Mouse located in Luang Prabang. Big Brother Mouse promotes literacy to youth in Laos as well as the English language. One of it’s main motifs is giving books to tourists so that when they meet children instead of candy they’ll give books. Many kids here don’t have the opportunity to read at home and if you’re going to take a picture of a child why not give him or her something useful.
Another project that Big Brother Mouse has is having tourists come and help Lao youth practice English. Every morning (except Sundays) from 9 to 11 an abundance of Lao youth come to practice their English. I was lucky enough to take part in this delightful and fulfilling project yesterday morning. When Benjamin and I walked in we were both confused and intimidated. We looked over at a few tables connected with about two dozen smiling faces. We both took seats separately and faced the people who were awaiting our help. I talked to a varying group of boys between three to five people and ages 20 to 23 (despite my being 19). A lot of our talking at first was “Hello, how are you?” “Do you like Lao culture?” and “How old are you?” Eventually, our conversation branched out. I was lucky to have one person who was pretty good at speaking English so we were able to converse quite freely. I learned that the boys I were speaking to were from the minority ethnic group the Kamhu; who were originally hilltribe people. I learned that they were studying law and wanted to help alleviate the poverty in Laos and make it a better place for their children. I learned that they studied the theories of Karl Marx and felt responsible to take care of their parents. Really, I learned a great deal of respect for the people of Laos. Conversely, I also taught them the words for lobster, crosswalk and dustpan. Big Brother Mouse is a wonderful project and I think I’m going to go back tomorrow.
Yesterday I also had the amazing opportunity to visit a beautiful orphanage just outside of Luang Prabang. I had never been to an orphanage before yesterday and my only impressions of orphanages had come from the lovable Madeline and the not so lovable orphanage in Oliver Twist. Deak Kum Pa Orphanage is a lovely place. The hotel I am currently staying at, “Lotus Villa Hotel”, donates around 27,000 dollars a year to it; providing bread, fruit and toothbrushes to the 500 odd children who live there. I would also like to note that for Lao people, orphans do not necessary have no parents, losing a single parent can provide a stigma leaving one as an orphan. Some of the children staying at the orphanage are also homeless children.
We took a large tuk-tuk (a motorized open-air vehicle commonly found in Thailand and Laos) there with a kind woman named Laya who helps out the orphanage and works at the hotel. After driving further away from the touristy areas of Luang Prabang and further into the jungle we hit a dirt road. A blue sign stood out that proclaimed Deak Kum Pa Orphanage and three pairs of little eyes met us as we drove past. When we got out of the tuk-tuk Laya gave us a brief tour throughout the orphanage starting at the kitchen. The kitchen kind of reminded me of those pictures you see of spice markets in India with giant bowls with colours of ochre, orange and yellow. Except, the giant bowls were full of dried sticky rice. Large blackened pots stood upon the wall and it seemed devoid of much else. Laya then led us through the male quarter and we were met with smiling/staring faces as well as automatic slight bows similar to Thai “wais”. We came across a class in session and decided to join in. The teacher welcomed us in and allowed us to introduce ourselves while the kids practiced their English with us. It was a really heartwarming moment that made me think how great a feeling it must be to be an English teacher and know that you are helping someone.
Afterwards, we wandered through the girl’s quarter and saw some kids swimming in a miniature waterfall. What was really remarkable though, was this huge garden that many kids were working on. The children (aged 6-20) all work together to grow the vegetables that they eat. To see so many people working together and actually enjoying themselves was a really nice feeling. Although these kids do not live in the best conditions, the more tourists visit and donate the better their lives get. Volunteer teachers come to help them learn English and people donate clothes. I wanted to mention this orphanage because it really is a lovely place. The children here seem happy, playing soccer, learning, swimming in waterfalls and gardening. After seeing some really terrible conditions the other day when walking through a poor area of Laos, I can really appreciate how great this place is. So for some advertisement, if you ever happen to be in Laos I would definitely recommend you go to this orphanage and donate whatever you can. Even if its just some old clothes. Where Laos is a developing nation to see a project like this helping so many kids live better and get an education is really great.
That’s my post for today,
I’ll talk to you all soon on other things I’ve experienced while in Laos
- Leia Atkinson