Today was a free day for us to explore the city. The previous evening I’d heard of an opportunity to teach English to locals, so I bought a copy of The Wizard of Oz which was printed in both Laotian and English. It was also edited to meet the culture of Laos more effectively.
When we arrived we were greeted with lots of smiles and enthusiasm, and we were quickly adopted by a pair of boys in their late teens. There was no embarrassment or awkwardness, they wanted to get chatting straight away and tell us about their culture in exchange for some help with their language and pronunciation. The boy I was working with was called Kong but as his friend, who was talking to Matt, had the same first name, he liked to be called ‘King Kong’to differentiate.
Their stories were similar- their families had managed to find the money for part of their education but couldn’t fund them any further (Kong was one of 11 siblings) so they were trying to find work, and going to the ‘Big Brother Mouse’ every day to meet foreigners and improve their English. I found their commitment to learning really refreshing and I told Kong about my school, and the somewhat differing approach to learning that some teenagers in the UK have. Kong wanted to make a video to tell children in the UK his story. We did two takes and Kong loved it- it was the first time he had ever seen himself on video before!
‘Big Brother Mouse’ is a fabulous organisation whose aim is to turn Laos from a country that doesn’t read into a country that loves books. They run the drop in centre every day and rely on volunteers like us to help locals with their language.
They also run book parties in schools and rural areas which cost only $200 but provide every child with their ‘first book’ that they choose for themselves and leaves the area with a small library to keep. They also educate people in how to care for books and by the end the children don’t want to go home, they want to stay and read their books. For more information about ‘Big Brother Mouse’ you can check out their website here:
When the session was over our new friends came along with us to Wat Sen temple, which is one of the must see things in Laos. The boys wanted to come with us so they could carry on practicing English and take lots of photos with us! We had to go into the temple ahead of them, else the staff would think that they were tour guides and make them pay for entry. We looked around for a while and admired the architecture and mosaic ‘tree of life’ on the back of the temple wall. It was incredibly hot though, and being at the temple we had to cover our shoulders and knees. I was really struggling by the end of the morning as the sun was at its highest.
We said goodbye to the young men, and walked around for a little while with Claudia. We saw lots of temples on the way and watched some monks working on a bamboo boat. We asked permission to take their photo and they were very obliging, posing for us to snap away.
Matthew wanted to watch the rugby with some of the others after we had finished teaching so headed back to the hotel to change and drop some things off whilst we headed to the Red Cross Centre. The Red Cross has been working to train people in Laos in order for them to make money in sustainable ways, getting people away from begging and into proper trades. In Luang Prabang they have set up a massage centre where they teach locals to give massages. It’s important to support these kinds of projects, so we headed down to get a massage and help the locals earn their money. The massage was great and I enjoyed chatting away to my masseuse about his family and his life in Laos. I’ve met some awesome people. Laotian people are really gentle and friendly, some of my favourite so far.
I was rather concerned about letting Matt head off alone as he is notoriously scatty with direction, but I figured he knew where he was going else he wouldn’t have set off, right? Wrong…. I headed to the place he was set to be meeting the others to find a rather sweaty Matthew who had only arrived ten minutes before me. Apparently he had ‘seen all of the city on foot’ as he had got rather lost. Oh well, at least he was safe and cheerful!