Education, Health care, and sufficient food...this is something that all people should have access to, as of right...
The red dust clouded our view of the paddies fields, as we wended our way towards the village of Udon Porn. The multinational women representing WIG (Womenís International Group) were visiting their special project; their donated funds had built a school. These tireless groups of women explore many ways to assist the remote villages, by funding small projects that were within their budget. Once a year the international women hold a bazaar to raise funds to support projects; clean water projects, linked to UNICEF, education and health issues of children. Their rewards: the happy smiles of the women and children as they absorbed the new experience of education and better health within their communities.
The village of Udon Porn had been brought to Madame Maureenís attention; it needed a school to be built for about forty children, of school age. Kao Mani the teacher was desperate for educational tools; books, pencils and paper for drawing pictures. Kao Mani worked hard for her children. She taught the students, mat weaving, embroidery, painting and how to design small articles to sell at the markets. Slowly, they were raising the much needed money, so vital to her school childrenís welfare.
The children were full of joy and pride; this was their special day. They were to perform their local songs and action dances for the Ministry of Education, the local Cadre and the International womenís group. The children fiddled with their national dress, adjusting their sash and headwear. Anxious, but proud mothers fussed over their off-spring, beaming widely as the cavalcade of dusty vehicles swept into the entrance of the schoolyard. The women left the comfort of their air-conditioned cars and listened carefully to the welcome speech of the village elder. They were escorted to their seats on the wooden forms and prepared to enjoy the entertainment and speeches. The children, who were with bursting with pride, slowly began to sing a sweet falsetto. Swaying gently, their arms raised above their heads, and their supple fingers telling the story; they danced. The visitors were drawn into the spell as they watched the weaving bodies, the children singing, performing comic acts. The heat and the humidity stunned the visitors with its intensity; it promised a storm as dark clouds rumbled aloud with thunder and lighting.
The local dignitaries spoke eloquently; expressing surprise that such a small village could lead the way towards enlightenment, and extolled the virtues of educating the young people. Zhai, a leader amongst women, smiled; she had been instrumental in bringing about this small miracle. In her mind she strived for the betterment of her people; to improve the education of the next generation was vital to her plan. With steely honey in her voice, she welcomed the visitors. Zhai strived to impress the officials of education of the desperate call for help, from all the provinces within Laos. She felt it was her duty to stress the importance of trained teachers and introduced Houng Mai, the young woman who was teaching these fortunate children.
The children beguiled us all with their innocence; their desire to learn and their skills of weaving stoles, painting stones (Pet Stones) weaving bed mats and wonderful colorful pictures. Imagine our excitement when we saw the coconuts painted with scenes of the ocean and colorful fish. Their homes are far from any ocean, and yet, they imagine, remember, and paint these wonderful scenes on coconuts-clever children. We canít wait to buy their vibrant examples of learned skills. The parents had prepared a meal the visitors and we sat before tables laden with bamboo shoots and noodles, papaya salad, and local bananas. The children proudly serve the food, and offer cool water to their visitors, watched by beaming parents. This has been a wonderful day for the school children and their teachers and will be remembered for a long time to come.
Finally the thunderstorm was crashing above us; the music has ended, the dancers are spent, and the final speeches are drowned out by thundersí loud voice. We had been sheltering from the brilliant sunshine beneath an old war-time Para-shoot. But the silk fabric was no longer waterproof and the heavy raindrops began to fall on us. It was time to leave and Madame Maryam rose to thank our hosts and we hurried towards our vehicles; driven there by the power of the monsoon rain.
Happy, smiling faces are our last memory, as the vehicles turned onto the red road that is flooding, as the waters overflows from the ditches. Slowly we wend our way back to Vientiane, to our homes; pleasant memories are captured by our cameras. A pictorial record of our small successes in the land of the simple life, in Laos- the sleeping Buddha.