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My personal highlight – by Pauline Kern (& blog article no. 100!)

During my 3-month stay here in Laos I’ve had so many personal highlights that it is rather difficult for me to pick out a special and only one. My daily work with the pre-schoolers and the teachers who do not teach English were in any case my daily highlights. To look into the smiling faces of the Lao people every day gave me the feeling to be in the right place at the right time. I’ve made a lot of new friends, dived into the Lao culture and therefore had a stay full of joy and happiness.

Nevertheless, there is one day I will always remember and cherish all my life because it reflects perfectly the kindness, warmness and sweet way of thinking of the Lao people.

It was the day of my 26th birthday. After I got up, my German flat-mates and co-volunteers wished me a happy birthday and gave me a wonderful birthday card, which was handmade in Luang Prabang, Laos. It shows a silhouette of a man working in a rice field.

So I arrived feeling already happy at Ban Sikeud primary school in the morning to do my Mopsy lessons, and my joy grew even bigger when I got a lot of compliments from the teachers about my new sinh. I had bought the fabric at the “morning market” in Vientiane and got it sewn by a local seamstress here in Ban Sikeud. After my Mopsy classes Linda came dancing towards me and sang “Happy birthday to youuuuu”, hugged me and wished me all the best for the next year of my life and my time in Laos.

In my Mopsy lessons I distributed the packages of “Haribo” (German “jelly bears”) I had brought with me from Germany for every child, which made them very excited and happy.

Then I took my bicycle like every day and rode it to Ban Phang Heng Secondary School to do English classes with my teachers. When I entered the classroom everybody from Group I was there and everything was really quiet. I started the lesson and began to wonder whether they had forgotten about my birthday when there was a knock at the door.

My “come in” was swallowed by the voices of all the teachers of Group II entering the classroom with a lovely birthday cake, all of them singing for me, turning off the lights and asking me to blow out the candles. I was so overwhelmed that I could barely say a useful sentence. Moreover, I really had to fight off my tears. But the surprise was not over yet: After I had blown out the candles the teachers gave me one present after the other so that in the end I had a big plastic bag full of pretty things to take home with me after school. It was very impressive to see how much the teachers enjoyed giving me a birthday surprise – they were smiling all the time and Saysamone Singhalath told me: ” We are so happy! We have never had the chance to do a birthday surprise for a German teacher. It is the first time and we are so happy that you are happy!”

We decided to eat the cake after school at 4 o’clock with leisure and then set off to Ban Sikeud Primary School by motorbike because I wanted to show them our library there. We sat down at the table and I read out the picture book Something else by Kathryn Cave & Chris Riddel to them. The main topic of the picture book is excluding other people. When I read it out aloud I felt that the teachers could not really sympathize with the main character or rather understand his problem of being mobbed. And indeed, I have not experienced any such problems in Laos during my time here. I think, like in most Asian countries, collectivism is held in high esteem in Laos and is more important than individualism. I could therefore easily imagine that the community does not have the same problems that we have in Europe. I asked Bounleud Sengsavangvong for his opinion and he confirmed my impression.

I’ve noticed as well that there are nearly no fights between the children on the schoolyard or in the playground and that it is very rare that children cry. I really appreciate the Lao way people interact with one another.

At the end of my guided tour through our “English Lending Library” I showed them the shelf where they could find the story books and “Easy Readers” for adolescent or adult English beginners and asked them to borrow one book each. I wanted them to read one (slim) book each at home and then to prepare a book presentation about it. The teachers liked the task and for most of them it was the first time they were ever going to read an English book.

In the afternoon we ate the cake and played volleyball together and I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the entire day- it was the biggest birthday surprise I had ever had in my life! It is impossible to say how thankful I am (not only for this special day but for the whole stay in Laos) and how much I appreciate these people – my friends.

Two weeks later the teachers presented the books they had borrowed on my birthday from the Lending Library. The results were very good and I was impressed by how much work they put into their book presentations. You can see the results here:

And here ends my tale of my personal highlight in my life and work in Laos. I will never forget my time in this wonderful country and I want to thank everybody who made this stay a unique experience!

Text and photos by Pauline Kern

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