It was a turbulent flight to Laos (went through windy Japan--felt like the plane was going to flip over!) but we've arrived to sunshine and great news about the kindergarten school project. Our contact here, Oney, has done a great job getting everything started. The outhouse is already built and the children are loving it. One little boy, around age 5, brought his towel to school. When his mom asked him why he took her towel, he explained that he can wash in clean water now at school, instead of in the dirty Mekong River. He was so excited. And we all know how hard it is to get a 5 year old boy excited about washing!
We will hold proper hygiene classes through a nurse when we arrive in Muang Khong on January 11 and post some pictures here of all the progress. We are thinking about painting the outhouse in rainbow colours to make it more fun for the children to use it. Also, Oney bargained hard with local contractors, so it looks like we are actually going to make it below our budget. This means we will have money available to begin our second project here (details to come!) in 2007, and also will be able to help provide some basic resources to an amazing school in India run by a fellow with money from his own salary to help the children of drug addicts/drug pushers in a slum outside of Calcutta (more on that to come as well!).
What Thanou and I are learning is that it is really so easy to make a difference in this world with only a few thousand dollars. As long as you work hard to understand local prices it takes very little money to make a huge difference for these children, and the future of their communities. They already have the desire to learn, all they need are basic resources, the kinds of things we all take for granted--toilets, books, clean water etc.! And frankly I can't think of anything more personally satisfying than knowing that something you did created hope, happiness and the chance for a better future for another human being--especially adorable little human beings!
We have successfully contacted the officials at the Sunshine School, here in Vientiane--this is a school that is run by an NGO and is very focused on child-centred creative learning. The principal and one of the teachers from Anuban kindergarten (our project) will be coming to tour the school and learn some new techniques from the teachers on Jan 8 & 9. We are grateful for the Sunshine School's support--taking time out to help teachers from another school for free.
We have started searching out school supplies at the markets, and there are lots of great workbooks to be found. We'll wait for the principal and teacher though, as they'll be able to get a better price and bargain harder! We have also found some great scarves for our next fundraiser--they are gorgeous hand-woven silk by women in the villages of Northern Laos.
We will be going to Muang Khong on Jan 10 with the principal and teacher of Anuban in a rented van with all the supplies (a 12-hour trip!). Until then, we'll be celebrating New Year's Lao-style, with endless amounts of food and sabaidee (ease/happiness). We will be trying to meet up with people from local NGOs to see what we can learn, but it's a challenge because it's New Year's and everyone has the next week off. Sabaii Life!! The Lao people know how to enjoy life. Even though most people here earn less than $1 per day and struggle to get the basics of life, they are always quick to smile and they don't take anything too seriously. They are just grateful for whatever they have, something I think we can all learn from.
We'll write again soon! May you all have a happy, healthy New Year!
Shawn & Thanou