Between a tasty, freshly made baguette and a mango shake we ended up visiting Luang Prabang’s local library. We both soon realized how different literacy is in a country known as one of the poorest in Southeast Asia. There were so few books available compare to what we are used to see in our local libraries back home, such a shame.
Being big book lovers we felt very sorry knowing and realizing how most children in Laos, especially those from rural villages, have probably never seen a book that is different from the one they get at school. We all know that those aren’t always the most fun ones, in fact when I was a child I was always looking for something more intriguing to read than my textbooks and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one.
We heard about a non-profit organization in Luang Prabang, Big Brother Mouse, that not only publishes children’s books in Lao language and some bilingual, but also organizes books’ parties. Those parties are an amazing invention in my opinion to promote literacy into villages and schools that are located in very remote areas difficult to reach.
Distributing its books has always been a challenge for Big Brother Mouse, so that’s why getting the books directly to the children is a great way to overcome it and keep improving not only literacy but a better quality of life by getting more knowledge.
Time Costs Nothing When Used Wiser!
It’s possible to sponsor a book party, donate, buy books and gave it to children while traveling through Laos or, if you are on a budget like us but still willing to help, there is still something than can be done.
It’s how we ended up going to one of the English practice sessions at the Big Brother Mouse building in Luang Prabang (there is another premise in Vientiane too) joyfully donating our time.
We simply walked in for the morning session at 9am (there is also one at 5pm), asked to join the already active group of young locals and novice monks and straight away started interacting with them.
To start with, it was weird in a way as it brought back memories from when I was first beginning to learn English in the UK and people were talking super slowly with me, using very simple words to make sure I understood and asking questions that didn’t require a straight yes-or-no as an answer so that I would make an effort to formulate a full sentence.
Now I was the one being carefully slow and using all these precautions to make sure the two guys I was talking with didn’t get frustrated by not understanding. It felt good trying to help practicing their English and hopefully they didn’t mind my inevitable Italian accent too much. I really can’t get rid of even it after spending so many years in the UK. DALE – I’d be sad if you did 🙂
As the conversation went on, I soon realized that I was also gaining something, it was a great, unexpected cultural exchange. I was answering questions about my country, myself and my experiences but also asking a lot about the Lao culture, customs and everyday life. I learnt about Lao weddings, life in small villages, what some of the young generation dream for their future, culinary tips (of course), what is the local perception of foreigners, how doable traveling is for Lao people and how they have different ‘priorities’ than myself.
The two hours session went pretty fast and, while my new friends were taking notes of new words or asking me some spelling related questions, I could hear every now and then Dale laughing with the guy he was interacting with, they even exchanged email addresses.
We walked out with a smile, glad that we’d have found out about Big Brother Mouse’s English conversation sessions before the end of our stay in Luang Prabang.
In fact we wouldn’t have minded doing it again, I learnt a lot about the Lao culture in those 2 hours and I seriously hope the two guys I was talking with had a good practice and benefited from it.