In mid-February, I (Julia) came to Laos with Team VI to start my internship at Bang Phang Heng lower secondary school and at the Ban Sikeud primary school. As my other main subject of study apart from English is art, in the first week my attention got caught by children working carefully and in a really concentrated manner with water colours.
Some of them drew with so much detail that it was difficult to know if they used templates or printed patterns. When I entered the room I discovered that some of the pupils outlined the shapes with their pencils and some others painted directly with water colours. There were motives like nature, temples, flowers, mangas, and comics with dialogues.
While examining some of the amazing results I found out that I was standing in the middle of the “Arts Club”. It is part of the Activity Time that takes place each day from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Pupils from 5th to 8th grade can choose to join this club. Ms Khongphet Phanthavong offers this Activity and supervises the children.
Entering the room, the young artists are awaited by a long table, lined by chairs. There is a working area for each child which is equipped with paint brushes, water colours, a water container, and pencils. Furthermore, there are scissors and glue, and the pupils use recycled cardboards for their paintings. Children can experiment with these materials to explore their tendency towards art.
Most of the time the children are able to work freely. However, sometimes the teacher brings different materials – mostly rubbish off the floor that they found on their way to school – with her, and then the children create fascinating art work with them.
When I talked to Madame Engel about the Arts Club and the great
artwork I saw, she told me that it was a particular concern of hers that children have the possibility to draw and paint. Mme Engel enjoys expressing herself through art herself. Therefore, she wants to pass on this chance to the children.
At first, talent or a tendency towards art needs to be discovered. By trying out, experiencing and experimenting for themselves, children can find out best what they like. Therefore, Mme Engel encourages teachers to look out for children who are happy and ambitious while drawing or doodling during regular lessons, to find hidden talents and to suggest to these children that they might enjoy the Arts Club. Mr Sonesai is one of those gifted children. He is 15 years old and already started to draw and paint when he was at Ban Sikeud p
rimary s chool.
He was one of Madame Engel’s “discoveries”. She started to support him in his artistry and would like to open paths for his – hopefully artistic – future. As English skills are important for getting known and getting around,1 maybe even to work abroad one day, joining English evening classes is part of the plan. Another one of the first “discoveries”, a gifted pupil who attended Ban Phang Heng secondary school, is now working as a tempel-painter in Myanmar and Indonesia.
Around the school, there are more examples of creativity to be seen. In one of his science lessons, Mr Sackbong dealt with the topic of recycling and finished the unit in the book with an art project. Pupils brought collectives and rubbish to do recycling art. Here are some results of the cross-curricular lesson:
If you ever receive(d) a greetings card
by the Angels for Children Foundation, you will have held – or will hold – artwork made by the pupils of the Arts Club in your hands. I will share with you a sneak preview of this year’s greetings cards:
After all the dire want I witnessed in other areas of Lao life and education, it was a great surprise and pleasure for me to see that the children of the AfC schools are so actively supported – not only in their main subjects.
Text & photos by J. Grüttner
1 Cf., for example, the “Big Brother Mouse” publishing house initiative in Luang Prabang: This group of young people produce picture books for children in Lao and English, take picture books to schools to introduce Lao pupils to reading for pleasure, organize “book parties”, and they are also always on the lookout for gifted illustrators or writers.