I finally feel like I’ve found people my size–the little preschoolers of Lathsene Village are so adorable. It makes me want to have many children of my own (wink, wink to my husband Virak). Our second day in Xieng Khouang started off with a M.O.U. (memo of understanding) signing with the Ministry of Education and Give Children a Choice for the preschool funded by Legacies of War friends and family. Although today is a Saturday, eleven officials came to the ministry to meet with us. For those of you who don’t know, Xieng Khouang province is one of the most heavily bombed area in Laos. Three out of the 47 poorest villages in Laos are in this province. The deputy minister and her staff graciously welcomed us and thanked us for our efforts to build a preschool in Xieng Khouang Province. After the signing we headed up to Lathsene Village where they have broken ground on the school site.
We were greeted by the village elders and watched workers setting up the foundation for the preschool. Then we joined 30 preschoolers aged one to five years in a room at the elementary school. They were just too cute for words. They sang Lao songs for us, and I tried a rendition of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in Lao (for those of you who don’t know, my Lao is just right for the children). After sharing songs, we gave them gifts: reading books from Big Brother Mouse, crayons (thanks Rani & Richard), coloring books, and of course bubbles. What child doesn’t like bubbles? The children thanked us all with a bouquet of flowers. They were so giving and generous of their time and smiles.
The village elders also held a traditional baci (blessing ceremony) to welcome and thank us by tying white yarn bracelets to our wrists. Lots of food and Lao Lao (Lao version of moonshine) was passed around. I must say that it is rather strong for a novice like me.
From Lathsene Village, we visited the local chapter of World Education in Xieng Khouang. Three of their staff members and two volunteers gave up their Saturday afternoon to share their stories with us. Bounmy and Toumy were both injuried by a UXO explosion in 1996. Bounmy was digging a fish pond when his shovel struck a bombie and he lost his left arm. Toumy was looking for bamboo shoots when his shovel struck a bombie and he lost his left hand. Both men volunteer their time, talking and working with other UXO victims. Again, I am struck by how Lao people are willing to look past their own misery and try to help others in need. As Bounmy was telling his story, he kept telling us how grateful he was because others were in worse condition (i.e., losing the use of their legs) than he was. But instead of just thinking about himself, Bounmy is trying to help others. He embodies the spirit of the Lao people. His resilience and compassion for others makes me proud to be Lao.