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Back in May 2012 Sean Day of UK Wilderness Expertise contacted Give Children A Choice about bringing a group of students from the UK to Laos and doing a community service project during their visit. This was only the second time we had been approached with a project like this but were excited at the chance to have young people experience life in a rural village of Laos and to help with some routine maintenance at one of our preschools. After a couple of discussions with Sean we chose Nongbia Village in Luang Prabang Province. We built the preschool in Nongbia in August 2006.

I think what was even more exciting was that this young group was going to stay with the villagers for four days; in their homes, working with them on the preschool, the village women would cook their meals and they would spend time with the children at the preschool and in the village.

Thongchanh Vilayvong has been with Give Children A Choice since we started in 2002. He is our Preschool Construction Coordinator and oversees the construction process for Give Children A Choice, he also planned and coordinated the UK Wilderness team visit to Nongbia. Below is Thongchanh’s report, in his words, on the 4 day project.

On July 16, 2012

Traveled to Nongbia, we arrived to Nongbia around 12:30 PM we left the bags at Mr. Khamthavong’s house be side the road on the way to Nongbia preschool he is host family as well then we walked to meet the Naibane and Villagers at preschool. They set up the stage to welcome us in preschool class, there are villagers, host families and village authorities attend.

Naibane gave us a speech welcome us and thank you for coming, introduced everyone to know each other then I got the name of host families they were here to take the group to stay with them at home. We separated group in three and four of students to stay with the host family. There were Mr. Jer, Mr. Khamthavong, Mr. Somphone, Mr. La, Mr. Somphet and Mr. Xiengya host family Charlotte put the name of students to the host list then I told the host family to take them home and see their room then come back to the preschool for lunch. The group was very enjoying their lunch they like Tomatoes sauce, there was a student need to see the cooker cook the tomatoes sauce. After lunch the group started works. Before starting work I told Naibane to bring the stuff that I sent to him by bus which he kept in his house and then he found out a transportation to take those stuffs to the preschool site. There were three separated groups. Group one refilled the crack on the walls, group two painted enamel paint on the door and windows and group three worked on play ground equipment, Charlotte changed her mind to make a new one with woods, she told them to repair the old one and build a new play house for children she needs materials as bolts, nuts, screw drill and saw to repair it but I don’t have any of these so I decided to buy those materials in Nongkhiew for them. I borrowed a Naibane’s motorbike to go to Nongkhiew to buy the materials for Playground Equipment I went to there and went back a couple of time. Everyone work until the end of the day. There were some villagers and children came to help as well. When they stopped work I told them to hang up their mosquito nets and I run around to help them hang up the nets also. The village women cooked for us everyday. I estimated the funds and paid the Naibane for meals.

I went round and looked at them working and help them fix the preschool, recommended what need to be fixed and painted, the group always come to me and ask do I have that, have this. Village’s Authorities and teacher got involve closely. Today the group doesn’t wanted to do a lot activity because they traveled long way they looked so tired they needed have a rest so, everyone went to their host family. In each meal I always reminded them about the works on the project every time to make sure they can do it and complete them on time and they have a leader to remind every one they have taken turn every day. I recommended them if there is any help or problem please call me which I left my phone number with each host family and I got their phone number as well. Everyone can help themselves it is not like Hotel or Guesthouse, everything is simple and basic.

On July 17, 2012

Everyone got up early in the morning and meet at Preschool wait for the Breakfast. In fact, Breakfast should ready to serve but it is raining the village women cooked quite late because they never used to cook for foreigner. After Breakfast, they resumed some works and started painting with emulsion and enamel paint at preschool and other group repaired playgroup equipment. Some group of students work on the playground equipment they dug the holes of play house and make a wall with bamboo, the bamboo does not enough for walls so there is a villager to lead two volunteers to get the bamboo from forestry, teachers help to make roof with palms, put cement onto the holes and put the pillars of play house Today the works are not completed so, I communicated with the Naibane to have some more people to come and help them to complete the preschool. Unfortunately we work under the rain it was raining every day. After lunch, they resumed works until 5:00 PM stopped working. They played with the children as play football and play game with children after work. The dinner served at 6:30 PM mostly they enjoyed the food but there were two ladies eat difference food, one does not eat fish and other does not eat meat. However, I asked cooker to cook separate for them every meal. Every meals I provided bananas and salts which asked from their leader which they can put salts onto their food for good health. I told the students who have any comment or question and who has a problem with host family then there were a few students come to me and asked How I do when the host family called for eating with them which they very kindness. I told them that if you don’t want to eat you can say no thank you if you give them a kind you have to eat a little bit or just test it that’s fine.

On July 18, 2012

At the same time, everyone got up early in the morning and had breakfast at meeting hall. They resumed works in the morning. Today, there were some villagers come to help and completed works at preschool such as completed a play house, completed painting, completed cleaning the rooms floors, completed painting play ground equipment and completed sun drawing for GCAC on the wall. After lunch, the group did their activities with the children at preschool class, some draw pictures, some doing arts. Also the group helps villagers plant the trees around school area. They have a great time today. After everything has done I told them to have a rest and change their clothes at their home stay which the villager had a baci ceremony for them in this evening. Baci is started at 5 pm and when everyone came and sit around the phakouan I explained to them know the Baci ceremony is very important that Lao people do when we have a wedding, recover from sickness and visitors come to visit. The Naibane gave a speech at the Baci Ceremony for the group. Mr. Kongsy on be half of Nongbia village would like to say thank you for coming and helping their village with painting and repairing preschool, they were very happy and proud of them. The villagers have nothing to return they had a small Baci Ceremony to wish and bless them all happy, have long life, all the best to them and their family. After Naibane finished his speech the older start his way for Baci for all of students that sit around the Phakouan. After Baci the group presented items for preschool teacher and said thank you to host family and villagers that allow them to stay and do project in their village, the group was very happy and happy to help the villagers with making difference. During waiting for Dinner serving I told the group to decide which Cave do they need to visit between Buddha Cave and Pha toke Cave so then they had a meeting after that they come back to me and said they would visit Buddha Cave in Pak Ou.

Dinner ready to served, the group, villagers and village’s authorities joined dinner and had them dance (Lum vong lao) by music, the group were very enjoying and have them drink lao lao everyone like it but poor two girls they get drunk during they are enjoying the party but every is fine charlotte takes care of them by bringing them back to host family and other group still have fun with the villager at the party until 9:00 Pm everyone went home stay. I looked and checked with them. Nothing happen with them after finished party, everything is fine then I went to sleep. They told me it is very good evening.

On July 19, 2012

Final day, the group had breakfast at the same place Meeting Hall after breakfast the group pack their stuff and said good bye the host families and cookers as courtesy. I help them to translate a note that they write up for their host family to say good bye and thank you for their allow them to stay home. Before leaving Nongbia I helped Charlotte and translated for her to say thank you and say good bye for their hosts and took some picture of their host family. The vans arrived around 10:00 AM on the way back to LuangPrabang we called at Pak Ou cave and had lunch at restaurant on the Mekong river bank but the group had lunch cost stayed on the budget we had. After lunch went to visit Buddha cave at first they worry about across the Mekong to Cave by small boat which they are not allow going without safe jackets put on them. They had a meeting a few minutes then decided to cross the Mekong by boat to see Cave on that time we used 3 boats after Cave I took them to see Xang hai village where they make Laolao as well. They like laolao they bought them for their parents. We arrived to LPB around 4:40 PM sent them to their guesthouse and I confirmed a van for them to Vangvieng.

Dinner at 6:30 PM near the Night market the fund I have may not enough so I told them to pay more extra by themselves they happy to do so. I have paid for their dinner as on the budget. I thank them on behalf of GCAC and Lao children especially Nongbia’s children. And a head of group said thank GCAC and me as well to help them make difference.

My impression is they all are so nice and very cute, they are generous people and it is my first time to meet Nation Language as UK. My challenging it is short time in doing project at preschool by filling and painting as well as made a play house for children. I don’t think they will complete but it was completed very well. I thank you them that made this project easier.

The Students impression is they had a great time and made a wonderful job at Nongbia project. They were happy to help and make difference.

The villagers impression is they have a nice preschool for their children which was helped by students from abroad which they had never seen before and they happy that GCAC and GCAC’s staff come to help their children with education in their village. They had a grateful to the generous people as the group and who may concern.

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On behalf of Give Children A Choice, the Nongbia villagers and children we thank Sean, Charlotte, Gavin, Philip, Sophie, Luke, Hannah, Toby, Abigail, William, Benjamin, Philippa, Patrick, Charlotte, Alexander, Emily, James, Michael and Owain.

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