This summer we decided to take the 9-hour drive to Xieng Khouang, spend a night in a small village, and do some activities with children there. I have wanted for a long time to visit a village again and interact with the community. That’s just what we did. Dad left the most important part of the trip up to me to organize. He had all the logistical aspects prepared—the accommodations, the vehicle, the permission from the village—but he asked me to plan the activities that we would do with the children. Though it is something I like to do– teach children and work on my Lao—I was at a loss for what to do. I wasn’t sure what to expect in the village.
One thing Dad did not tell us, and we forgot to ask, was the ethnicity of the village. In a Hmong village, though it is only an hour and a half away from Xieng Khouang’s capital, Phonsavanh, very few young children are able to speak fluent Lao. So on our trip, language was quite a barrier when it came to trying to teach a few basic English words to the children because they did not fully understanding our Lao. And that was only our first surprise!
We were expecting to spend time with 20 and 40 children in Xien Khouang, but when we arrived, it seemed that every child in the entire village turned up. We counted 71 children the first morning! Seventy-one excited children, some of whom had limited knowledge of the Lao language. Seventy-one children whose normal summer day consisted of hard work in the field, herding their families’ cows to greener pastures, filling up large bottles with water from the tanks and waterfall quite a walk away, and taking care of younger siblings… 71 children we needed to find a way to connect with.
that consisted of just four instructions (big, small, sit, stand), and the kids were soon laughing and warmed up to the idea of foreigners organizing activities for them. From then on, the kids didn’t stop smiling or laughing.I am so thankful for Mom. From the moment I stood in front of everyone, I was afraid. I was out of ideas. Mom, seeing my distress, came to the rescue and got all of the children out of the one-room school where we were gathered and into the outdoors. Then we played a game
One of the games we did that afternoon, after having lunch with the village chief, was limbo. All of the kids took turns trying to scoot under the limbo stick. Later in the afternoon, when we accompanied the village chief’s wife to harvest some sweet corn, we passed the house of one of the children who had joined earlier.
Guess what a young boy was doing in front of his house? He had tied a string between two poles and was doing the limbo with help from his younger brother. The young boy, who was 10 years old (the same age as Matthew), stopped by later in the evening and turned out to be an amazing Uno player. When asked what Matthew thought of his Uno companion, he replied, “He is very little for his age but always had a smile.” At various times during the two days we spent in the village, Mom held short health training sessions for the women and children.
There was one on handwashing, one on teethbrushing, and one on healthy eating. A large poster was used to help the children and mothers visualize the difference between a healthy village and a village with poor sanitation. Hand soap, tooth paste, toothbrushes, peanuts, healthy crackers and bubbles were handed out—not that bubbles have anything to do with sanitation and healthy eating, but we figured the kids would have fun with them!
This trip was a great learning experience for us. We live in Laos, and many people believe that our life is hard. However this trip showed us how much we take things for granted. When the village tap ran out of water while we were there, we had to walk five minutes to a stream along the side of the road and shower there with a number of other villagers.
When the water runs out at home, we simply turn on the pump and voila, the problem is solved. At our home, drinking water is always available, and we never have to worry about having enough nutritious food on our plate.
When we distributed a variety of items to the children in Xieng Khouang, including second-hand clothing, some soap, and healthy snacks, we were sharing just a few things that we are privileged to have in abundance. Maria wrote in her reflections on the trip that she wants to stop taking things for granted, to “be able to share with those who don’t have much and to do my work willingly because there are so many children younger than I am who have to work so much harder. There are things that I struggle with in my life, but after seeing the work the villagers do, and how little they have, I want to change my attitude.”
We had a very memorable time in the village, and as Maria also put it in her reflections, “We were privileged to have a tiny taste of the life of the villagers.”