Delivering school supplies to a village in Laos
"We worry about what a child will become tomorrow,
yet we forget that he is someone today."
A three hour bus ride from Vientiane, plus 25-minute tuk-tuk ride from Vang Vieng, landed me in a small village where I twice delivered school supplies. Funding came from family and friends and I am so grateful to them. I first heard of the school while having lunch in a cafe in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. I met a cafe owner's brother who was a social worker. He talked about how little people had and how children often didn't go to school after fourth grade. Girls in particular, were less likely to go to school. The conversation segued into many topics and as I said, one thing led to another. The brother happened to mention how a school in a small village didn't even have money for books, much less paper or pencils. I tried to envision a classroom of children with no books and no way to write notes. These were elementary age children. It hit me hard.
With the help of wonderful interpreters, I obtained a list of needed items from the head of the village on my first reconnaissance trip. I found interpreters by inquiring at local places where tourists could book various activities. My interpreters helped me negotiate the purchase of school uniforms, text books, soccer balls, pencils and note paper at the local market in Vientiane. My thanks goes out to both of my interpreters - Vone and Kim - and a HUGE thanks to the friends and family who donated proceeds to help make this venture possible.
Pictured above is the head of the village/school administrator (2nd from left) along with the teachers. I'm, of course, the giraffe in the middle. Between the administrator and me is a woman who heads an NGO specializing in helping under privileged women. Part of her work involves helping young girls get an education. Some direct funds I received from friends and family went to this organization.
My intrepreter, Vone, his parents and siblings
This was Vone's home in Vang Vieng. Vone was wonderful in helping arrange the logistics for delivering the supplies. He operates an adventure travel company in the village. His home burnt to the ground a year earlier due to a faulty electrical connection. He explained that in his culture people believe bad luck is contagious and that his family would bring bad luck to anyone who offered them housing. Friends could offer replacement items and help out in other ways, but would not allow them to be house guests fearing that bad luck would contaminate their home. Vone and his family had no other choice but to suffer the cold, wet weather of winter, camped out in their back yard during the slow reconstruction process. He lost several of his kayaks and bicycles in the fire among many other personal items.
When I was on that smothering hot, smelly bus, crammed full of sweaty travelers; our bodies jammed up against each other because there were too many people, I curled up in my tiny section of seat, wrapped my arms around my folded legs that acted as props for my chin, put my ear plugs in and turned on my IPod. To the sounds of Del Amietre and U2, I was inwardly smiling at the irony. I was miserable in the physical setting, but I was completely at peace and happy. I clearly remember thinking: "This is what I'm meant to do." I'm really good at coming up with creative ideas and making things happen. There I was in a foreign country and by asking around I found good people to assist me to pull it all together.
My point in telling this story is simply to encourage people to find their own outlet for helping those in need. It certainly doesn't have to be in a foreign country. It can be in their own neighborhood. It could be the elderly woman down the street who needs groceries delivered. It doesn't matter what it is. It's about what need you identify and want to help meeting. I actually believe I get more out of this kind of experience than the people I'm hoping to help. Sometimes helping others feels very selfish because it feeds my soul in such nourishing ways.