Book Party with Big Brother Mouse
Mar 12, 2008
Big Brother Mouse is a local, Laos run non profit library and language program for the promotion of Laos literacy and English . Nick and I have been volunteering there with the drop in English conversation sessions for high school and university boys. Tomorrow we are "hosting" a book party in a small village where 50 to 100 young kids who have never owned a book, and maybe some who have never seen a book, will join us for a day of fun and learning. And the coolest part is that they will each take home a book with them!!! We are so excited :)
Check out http://www.bigbrothermouse.com
The program creates and adapts their own stories so that the books are really of interest to the kids who will read them - on account of so few Laos language childrens books. My new Laos buddy (a 21 year old law student) uses a Laos English dictionary that was printed in the the 60's!!
Our day at a village school - Kyla writing
One day after a hot and dusty ride to Buddha Park outside Vientiane on the local bus, I spotted a frail, older man, begging in a busy section of the station, yet somehow unnoticied by those coming and going. This image hit me - really hard. Once off the bus we rushed to a stall and ordered a fresh bagette sandwich and large cold water. In presenting our offerings to the man, Nick noticed he was blind, and carefully placed the items in his hands with a gentle "sabaidee". The man responded with a quiet "thank you".
I swallowed back the tears on the walk back to our guesthouse. The weight of all of the poverty I had seen in Cambodia and Laos had finally caught up with me. In the comfort of our guesthouse room, we tried to make sense of it all. In the end we realized that our future volunteer work at the orphanage in Ghana was simply not enough.
We decided to forego a trip to the northeast and instead agreed to bunker down in Luang Prabang for a week to find a meaningful way to spend out time. And we certainly did! On our first day in town we ventured into Big Brother Mouse and quicky appreciated the work of the organisation
Big Brother Mouse is a local, Laos run non profit library and language program for the promotion of Laos literacy and English . The program creates and adapts their own stories so that the books are really of interest to the kids who will read them - on account of so few Laos language childrens books. Big Brother Mouse hosts conversational English language sessions for older students, and distributes books to school-aged children, most who have never owned a book.
We then dropped by for English conversation sessions with young students learning the language, and also signed up to sponser a Book Party - whereby a village of school-aged children are given books. It was our luck that a Book Party could be arranged before our departure, and that we could join in on the day.
We rose very early the day of the book party. At 5:30 we were out on the streets to witness the gving of alms to the monks and (monk) novices. We were sure to keep a respectful distance, and tried hard not to curse the other foreigners who stalked the monks and novices like papparazzi - or worse yet, participated in the giving of alms. Kind of like showing up to your first Catholic Mass ever, and marching up to take Communion. Its just something you should not do. Rant finished.
We then met up with Niklas, our new German buddy, to have one final breakfast before he took the bus back to Bangkok. By 7:00 we were at BBM to meet up with the others participating in the Book Party. The BBM staff and 4 fellow Canadians gathered, and then set off for the car trip that was likely to take from 45- 120 minutes. It was 2 hours of bumpy riding south of the city along the Mekong. Paved road turned into dirt road, into huge pot holes, over tiny bridges, and traversing streams I was sure we could not make it over.
When we finally arrived we parked on the dirt/grass field and watched as 50, then 100, then 200 children filed past us! I was overwhelmed by the number of children. Curious and nervous glances were exchanged. For many of the children this was likely their first Farang sighting. It was our first visit to a Laos school.
Since Kyla's exhausted herself trying to write about the whole day (the poor dear is lying on the floor, fingers clenched into claws from writing so much - you should all be thankful for the amount of typing we do!), I'll finish off. But because my forte is off-topic random blather, and not heartfelt emotion, I'll have to be brief.
The staff at BBM took charge, having done this dozens of times before. Soon the kids were learning what the day would hold, and then were marched back into their classrooms for some drawing lessons.
The school was one long building with a high ceiling, and constructed of wood with a dirt floor. The classrooms were just separations in the one room by blackboards, which actually were just planks of wood painted green. The kids sat in long rows at tables, about 30 to 50 in each of three rooms. Dozens of younger brothers and sisters who weren't old enough to go to school yet milled about, running into the rooms, then back out to play in the field.
Every kid received a piece of paper and a pencil, and were taught some basic drawing techniques. We all then sat quietly and drew pictures of faces together - Kyla's drawing was actually quite horrific, and made many of the kids laugh, and some of the smaller ones quake in the seats. (When we get back to Canada, I may send that drawing to a psychiatrist ... just to cover my bases, you know? But when you see the woman you love draw such a horrible face, you start to wonder.)
After drawing, which for most kids would have been the first time they were given permission to doodle on paper, the BBM staff taught them some songs about books. We joined in different groups, and I tried to sing along. The best I can say is that my clapping was all right. The tone and actual words left a bit to be desired. After songs, they played some games in the field. While this was going on, Kyla and I noticed two novice monks sitting alone in the classroom. Following the precepts meant that they could not join in games. We felt for them, and insted of joining the games, went and talked with them a while. They corrected our pronunciation of Laos words, and we helped them with the english alphabet. Their names were JoKo and JoKeo (Jo means novice), and they seemed to have fun hearing us butcher the names of famous places in Laos.
After the games, the kids got some orange drink (I didn't know Tang had expanded across to Laos) and some biscuits, and settled in to listen to some stories from some of the books that Big Brother Mouse created. The staff were hilarious, and had all of the kids laughing, jumping, and screaming at the right parts of the stories. And even though they were in Lao, I could recognize the Three Billy Goats Gruff (I did not, however, recognize the traditional tale of the old man who tried to pull a lettuce leaf out of the ground - in the end, he had the whole village, along with all of the dogs and cats, trying to help him).
Then came the best part - each child was able to choose a book of their own. They could choose from about 20 different books, all in Laos (which doesn't happen that often - many books in Laos are in Thai language), and some with English as well, with great stories written and illustrated by the staff at BBM (or, in the case of Dr. Doolittle, adapted in Laotian by the staff). This would, for almost all of the children, be the very first book that they would own in their life. BBM also leaves about 50 books for the school, to start a library, and the kids learned how to take care of their books so that they can trade them in later for another book. The kids were amazed, overjoyed, and sometimes speachless. They sat almost dead-still with their new books, flipping through the pages mesmerized.
And then it was time to go. We stopped in to the principal's house for a meal of rice, spicy salad and noodles, and then jumped back in the van clutching fresh coconuts to drink on the ride, courtesy of the villagers (nice gesture, not so nice result - with all of the bumps in the road, most of the coconut juice wound up in my lap). We forded the stream again, and flew back into town. An incredible day all around, and it kept getting better - we met up with Somboun and Cheu Yung, our two friends from the language practice, and went to the internet cafe to show them our website and how they could email us in the future. And then we went for pizza, one of the foods I've been craving and missing on the trip.
Can you get a better day?