Kokmanh Village is located 22 miles or 40 minutes southwest of Luang Prabang. We traveled by tuk tuk on the main road before turning onto a roughly paved dirt road. The power lines to the village were balanced on leaning bamboo poles. We drove down through two ravines and through several streams to reach the village. Each time, we had to get out of our tuk tuk to make it easier for the tuk tuk to drive up the steep slope on the opposite side of each ravine. At the end of the road was the school grounds.
On the school grounds we found a five-classroom primary school built by the Japanese government. UNICEF built a two-room classroom over 40 years ago. In a state of constant disrepair due to the harsh weather conditions, the roof had been replaced many, many times. Beyond the UNICEF school and overlooking a cliff was the beautiful Mekong River, where the children were playing on the beach. The beach ran for miles. It is here where the villagers fish, wash their clothes and bathe. The beach is a welcome respite to the unrelenting heat, during the hot and humid winter months. To the left was a makeshift preschool that flooded with 2-4 inches of water whenever it rained. There were no desks, chairs or storage cabinets for school supplies, the room looked barren and not like a preschool at all.
Kokmanh has 160 families and 860 people. It is 100 years old. $150 is the average annual family income. Income is derived from growing rice, peanutes, green beans and soybeans. The village grew to its current size by accident. A fire devastated the neighboring village Ban Yang 30 years ago. The Kokmanh villagers hospitably invited the homeless families to their village. In addition a number of Khmou ethnic families joined Kokmanh 40 years ago. I asked where did the Khmou come from. They said 'two or three mountains' away, as they pointed eastward.
During our earlier visits to the village (in 2004 and 2005), village leaders were unsure about committing 10% of the preschool construction cost. Give Children A Choice requires villages to commit to support 10% of the construction cost in cash or in kind. We do that in order for the villagers to take a larger stake in the preschool's ongoing care and sense of ownership. Experience has proven that this concept works. On our third visit to Kokmanh they were prepared to commit. We were delighted. The preschool program has thrived.
The Kokmanh VIllage Preschool was built with the generosity of Denise and Michael McCarthy and Lynne and Jack Baldwin.