Remember the days in primary school when you learnt how to divide the bodies of insects into three different sections called the head, the thorax and the abdomen?
Well, imagine eating rice mixed with insect body parts for every meal for two weeks. That was what I experienced when I joined 19 other students from SP for a community service trip at Ban Kok Wan village in Luang Prabang district in Laos.
The mission ran from 16 to 28 March this year. We were there to teach the basic conversational English and Health Education, and build a water tank to help them get sufficient water during the dry season.
Mission Accomplished: The team at Ban Kok Wan hill with the finished water tank.
Ban Kok Wan village is about an hour away from the centre of the Luang Prabang. The temperature on an average day ranges from 34 to 41 degrees Celsius. Most of the people live on about 50000 Laotian Kip or aprroximately SGD$6.22 a day.
A typical day consists of waking up at about 6am, and teaching and building of the water tank until dusk when we went back to the hostel for dinner and reflection sessions.
This trip, like any community service trip, had many challenges along the way. For starters, the heat took a lot of getting used to.
Another challenge for us was realising that most of our lesson plans and materials were too difficult for the Laotian students. We had to improvise on the spot. The students, thankfully, were very attentive.
Lastly, it was a challenge to communicate with the people over in Laos. We had to resort to hand gestures and the help of our guide to communicate with the children and to our Laotian friends. I made a note that I should have taken more initiative to go beyond basic Laotian.
Playtime: A panoramic shot of the large expanse of Ban Kok Wan Secondary School. It houses a total of about 350 students in five classrooms. The staff have an open-air staff shelter – not a room - right next to the principal and Department Head’s office.
To sum it up, this trip was more than just a community service trip; it was a learning journey for me. I had a reality check on not to not take things for granted.
For example, the people in Ban Kok Wan village do not own handphones. Yet they find happiness in the simplest of things. I have learnt to also appreciate the opportunity to study in our comfortable classrooms and with very experienced teachers.
Ironically – the most memorable part of my trip was the visit to the orphanage and the children’s home for the deaf. The orphanage had hundreds of children who lost their parents due to illnesses and other reasons.
What I was just unprepared for their attitude. They did not consider losing parents or being deaf a handicap in life. Their cheerful and thankful disposition that really moved me.
I cannot speak Laotian but I have much to learn from the Laotians on how to live in the face of daunting challenges. Life can be harsh and deals us losses we don’t expect. But it is how we carry our burdens that can make a difference to our own happiness.
What playing with Laotian kids teaches us about joy: “Smile, and the world will smile with you”
Written by: Glen Chua
Year 3, Diploma in Media & Communication