The Give Children A Choice team visited with the Thachok Village school principal Mr. Koua Moua this past February 2009. His meeting room walls were covered with student enrollment charts, village layouts, and other detailed information about Thachok and its sister Nakhampheng villages. Mr. Koua provided us an overview of his village, its school and its needs. He humbly noted that his village would “ideally like a three-room preschool, but we would appreciate any size preschool to help our children’s education.”

Thachok Village is a Hmong village and comprises 107 families with over 700 persons. It is located 40 minutes east of the Xieng Khouang Provincial capital Phonsavan on the main highway leading to Vietnam. Thachok Village is located in the heart of the US bombings during the Secret War from the 1960s and early 1970s. During that time, the villagers migrated to Nong Het District towards the Vietnam border. They returned to Thachok in 1975, when the war was over.

The village was heavily bombed. Bomb craters were pervasive and were evident as we walked along the edge of the school grounds. Only the school grounds in Thachok Village was cleared of unexploded ordnance (UXO). The villagers live and farm on uncleared land. Villagers die from UXOs every year. In 2008 alone, 14 people died from UXOs. Among the group, 5 children hit a bombie while playing and died instantly. Nonetheless, the villagers have no choice but to make do with what they have.

As a side note, we learned this trip that the average Xieng Khouang family before the war owned 50 cattle/buffalo. Families are fortunate to own one today. The UXO-infested land is a major deterrent to their economic growth.

Family income is divided into two segments, those with nearby flat land, convenient access to water and greater ability to grow more rice and other crops versus those who have to travel more remotely and farm on mountainous terrain. The former group’s income averages 2.5 million kips (300 USD); those farming on the mountainous terrain earn an average 1.3 million kips (150 USD). Many cannot grow enough rice to sustain themselves to the next rice growing season. Rice must be purchased at the local market.

Some families are able to grow livestock, chickens. But, with the limited amount of space, a limited number of families may have one or two cattle/ buffalo, or pigs and chickens.

UNICEF recently built a new primary school at Thachok Village. The primary school supports not only Thachok Village but also its sister Nakhampheng Village, where there are 114 families and 787 villagers. The primary school’s grades 1 through 5 accommodate the 460 children from both villages. One primary school classroom is used as a pre-primary classroom, but is too small to accommodate the 140 preschool children from both villages.

The proposed three-room preschool would accommodate 140 3, 4 and 5 year olds from both Thachok and Nakhampheng Villages. The education department will provide trained preschool teachers.

Preschools play a particularly important role for ethnic villages. Ethnic children speak their ethnic language at home and generally exposed formally to the national language Paso Lao for the first time in first grade. Hmong children attending primary school have great difficulty meeting the national primary school testing standards. The unfortunate outcome today is a poor educational head start in their academics, but bruised confidence and self-esteem so early in the children’s learning career. Many children are left back too soon, too often, and face the possible fate of dropping out of school too early.

Clearly, the Mr. Koua was grateful and hopeful for his village children. He appreciated our interest in his village. He was happy to give us a tour of the village, filled with children and working families.

On May 24, 2009 Give Children A Choice’s coordinator in Laos, Mr. Thongchanh Vilayvong traveled to Xieng Khouang Province to meet with Education Department officials and to begin the process of building Thachok Preschool.

On May 25, 2009 Give Children A Choice signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Xieng Khouang Education Department for the construction of Thachok Village Preschool.

On May 25, 2009 Mrs. Saisamone Mangmormek, a Deputy Head of the Education Department signed the MOU with Thongchanh representing Give Children A Choice. Several officials of the Education Department were also present. Mrs. Mangmormek thanked Give Children A Choice and its supporter Mr. Coleman Fung for continuing to support their provincial preschool program by building in Thachok Village.

ST Construction Company is the builder of Thachok Preschool. On May 26, the builder, the Education Department and Thongchanh completed the site survey for the new preschool. Construction is scheduled to be completed by August 15, 2009. While we do not anticipate delays, weather is always a concern during the rainy season.

Thongchanh traveled to Xieng Khouang Province at the end of July to meet with the Education Department officials, the construction company and visit the preschool con-struction site for the 50% construction inspection. The preschool progress is moving quickly now and the preschool is actually nearer to 75% complete.

The Thachok Village preschool construction completed in mid-September. Children’s enrollment has started in early September. Classes will begin soon.

Thongchanh visited Thachok Village preschool for the final inspection. He also visited the school principal and some already enrolled preschoolers.

Thongchanh presented library books, mats and wooden blocks for the children. 117 pre-schoolers are already registered for preschool. The Xieng Khouang Education Department has already assigned three preschool teachers to your preschool. Ms. Nanthavong handled the preschool enrollment. They look forward to meeting us during our January and April 2010 visits. We will have our healthfair at the preschool in April 2010.

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