August 17, 2006
I am currently in Luang Prabang in Laos with an organization called Globe Aware. This week has been truly spectacular and fulfilling. I have been keeping a journal and taking lots of pictures, so once I return, I will post all of that here. For now, just a quick hello before I am off to help teach English to some of the Novice Monks in the town (really!)..... --Rachel Toyen
March 15, 2006
Today we went to a nearby village, located down the Mekong River about 20 minutes from Luang Prabang by slow boat. We had our local person, a university teacher with us to help with translation and getting around. Contrary to the appointments from earlier in the week where we got started 30-60 minutes after the agreed upon time (aka â€œLaotian timeâ€) she arrived 5 minutes early and surprised us both with her punctuality.
Our first visit was to the north school situated at the far end of the village where the boat was docked. Walking through the village and seeing thatched huts on stilts, chickens, half starved dogs, and little children running around made me feel like I was in a time warp. There were no organized streets or neighborhoods, but rather â€œhousesâ€ built anywhere there was a spare scrap of land.
When we got to the school, the children were excited to see foreigners and started gigglingand watching us with cuious glances. We bought textbooks for each class and handed them out â€“one book per two children. They were polite and grateful to be receiving anything, let alone a textbook, that each one said â€œKop Chaiâ€ (Thank-you) to us. It was all at once heartbreaking and heartwarming. The teachers and principal were just as greatful and said, as translated by our local host, that they wished us many blessings even though they had nothing to give us to thank us. The humility and gratefulness of the people of that entire school really impacted me.
Our next visit was to the south school, a 10 minute boat ride down the river. The south village was even more primitive than the north. We arrived and went to the building where the community events take place. The village elders had prepared us an elaborate thank-you ceremony for us for providing the text-books for the children. The elder women and men said Buddhist prayers and gave us blessings by tying white strings around our wrists. I had at least 20 on each hand and the appreciation of our gifts was once again overwhelming. I felt like I was royalty. They even made a special lunch for us, made by one of the women of the village. We went home a while later since school had apparently been cancelled for the afternoon.
March 16, 2006
We returned to the south school this morning to drop off small gifts and English books to the children. They quickly assembled in the classroom and were talking and giggling before we arrived. The moment we entered the room and greeted them with â€œSabai deeâ€ (Good Morning), they all stood up as if at attention and put their hands together in prayer pose. The faces of the children lit up when we gave them gifts and we taught them to sing â€œHappy Birthdayâ€. Their smiles were precious and I was having a hard time keeping my composure as I noticed their uniforms were torn in multiple places and brown with dirt. I wondered when the last time was that any of their pants or shirts had been washed. I wondered when any of the children had bathed last. Their arms and faces were dirty with dust and their fingernails black with dirt underneath.
What was being used as a classroom was pitiful. No lights, no fans to circulate air â€“ This was because there was no electricity. The doors, tables, and benches made of wood were so old they would probably crumble or break if someone kicked them. Despite these poor conditions the children were laughing and acting curious. I wonâ€™t be forgetting their smiles anytime soon. --Kay Chitale
In the future, you will be able to post your photos from your Globe Aware programs here on the website for free, by posting your URL link from www.ofoto.com.
We just returned from Asia and I wanted to give you some feedback on our experience in Laos. Your program was outstanding.
Kelvin Somphone Seomany was an inspiration and a joy to spend time with. His warmth, ethics and love for his people are apparent at every turn. The projects he selected and balance of free time to work time were the perfect balance for our family. The variation of physical labor on the road and education both at the village, the orphanage and the bookstore were ideal. At my request he also took us to the UXO headquaters which I hope will become a standard part of the Laos week, it was an important piece in our understanding. So often we were struck by the difference of the unique access our involvement with Globe Aware gave us in contrast to the backpackers who seemed to be searching for a way to make genuine connections with the place and people yet not having a means by which to infiltrate beyond surface tourism. Your concept made incredible sense to us on the ground. It really created a universally positive feeling for us as volunteers and for the recipients who are shown kindness and respect. In contrast to the busloads of tourists being hounded by beggars in Cambodia who fostered a culture of begging, we were able to give to the people of Laos in partnership by working side by side with the villagers and preserving their dignity.
Our teenage daughters had the experience of their lives and left enriched beyond what any other vacation could have given them. They worked hard and took pride and pleasure in what they accomplished. They left the children of the village with heavy hearts and with a deep understanding that happiness is not about the excessive materialism of life in America, but rather saw first hand how in extreme poverty it is friendship, family and community that sustains the children of the village.
The remainder of our time in Asia was spent sightseeing historic, cultural, urban and beach environments, yet both when asked said the three days digging a road and playing soccer in Ban Paksi village were the highlight of their trip. Both my husband and I agreed with them.
Thanks for an incredible experience,