Thursday, June 21, 2007

MCC’s Global Family Project to Help Ethnic Minorities

Earlier this month, Khamseng and I (Phyllis) traveled to northern Laos to visit one of MCC’s Global Family projects. Khamseng has been working with MCC for 2 years as a translator and is also in charge of this project. We flew to Udom Xai and from there to a bus to Luang Nam Ta. This part of the journey had us within 20 km of the Chinese border.

Our purpose for going to Luang Nam Ta was to attend the graduation of 7 of our ethnic minority students from the Luang Nam Ta Teacher’s Training Center. While we were there, we learned that only 5 would be graduating because two students did not have sufficient credits to graduate.

We are confident that the last two can get those credits in July. The five students who graduated are pictured with Khamseng and me. All seven teachers will start their new jobs at the end of August.

Graduation at this school is a time for students and teachers to celebrate and families are not included. Below: The guys waiting for the ceremony to begin.

There were more women than men graduating. Below: The women look at their diplomas.

Not Quite Complete

Khamseng confers with the two students who need to take the extra courses during the school break before they can become teachers. It was quite a blow to the two women not to have graduated with their class. They will likely complete their requirements by the end of July and be ready to teach for the next school year.

There is More News!!

Si Pie and Khampone got married with a “small wedding” the week of his graduation from the teacher training center. He and his new wife are planning to have the “big wedding” in January of next year when they and their families have more money to celebrate. Khamphone is one of the students we sponsored and he married Si Pie who graduated last year. They are both from the Tai Dum ethnic group and the celebration was full of fun, food, friends, music and traditional ceremonies.

A Book About Gandhi

Phyllis with the Director of the School.

Quaker Service Laos, an American Quaker group who have been working in Laos for many years, recently translated a book about Gandhi’s work and life into the Lao language. MCC is helping the Quakers to distribute this book and so we gave 10 copies to the library of the Luang Nam Ta Teacher Training Center. The Director of the school was pleased to receive them because up to that point, they only had technical books in the library. He said there was a big need for storybooks and biographies in their library.

Ajan Somhak
While in Luang Nam Ta we also met with Ajan Somhak who is the liaison person between MCC and the Global Family sponsored students who study in Luang Nam Ta. As such, he keeps in contact with the students, gives them food money on a monthly basis and reimburses their health expenses. But he does more than just that. Ajan (which means teacher) is a busy man; besides his day job with the department of non-formal education, he and his wife own and operate a busy restaurant beside the Luang Nam Ta bus station and he also works unofficially as a social worker.

The first day that we arrived in Luang Nam Ta around supper time, we headed to Ajan Somhak’s restaurant. It was so full we had to go to the neighboring one – which was absolutely empty! The following day, we came for breakfast and sat down with Ajan Somhak. As we ate our eggs and bread, he explained that he employs people at the restaurant on a temporary basis based on their needs. As we were sitting and talking, he pointed to one of the workers and said “She is a teacher but now it’s holiday time and she needs some money before she goes back home.” Later he pointed out another and said she was a student who had no where to go so she was going to work there for a while. He also is employing one of the Global Family sponsored students, Jitapon, whom you will read more about in this newsletter. The only kind of people he will not help out are people who are lazy and don’t do their share of the work.

Ajan Somhak speaks positively about the abilities and futures of the students we are sponsoring. He thinks they will make good teachers and will help their communities. He looks to the future with hope and promise.

Meet Jitapon Jitapon, or just Jit as everyone calls him, is one of the two students who joined our sponsorship a year ago. He has always liked school and can’t name a favorite subjects because he likes them all. When he was in Secondary School he wanted to study English but there was no English teacher at this school. There was an English teacher in the district but to get to him, he’d have to take a boat and Jit could not afford the money for the boat ride.

Now that he is at the Teacher Training Center his life is different. He still finds he likes school and is enjoying lessons and doing well. However, dormitory life is the big change and happily for him, it suits him. He has many friends and finds they are able to help each other with homework, cooking, cleaning and other chores.

Jit is a sporty person who enjoys soccer, volleyball and rattan ball. He placed second in the whole school for the half-marathon (21 km) that was held recently.

Jit works in Ajan Somhak’s restaurant when he has some free time. While at work, he gets free food plus $2 per day (a fair wage by Lao standards). His duties include preparing food, washing vegetables, cutting meat, washing dishes and clearing tables. He didn’t really know how to any of these things before he got the job but he’s an energetic and enthusiastic learner.

Some of Jit’s concerns about school relate to English and Math. He has never studied English before and would really like to learn it but the way the schedule is step up, he only gets it for 2 hours a week. In Math, this year he and his classmates were unlucky in getting an irresponsible and dishonest math teacher who was often absent because he was “busy”. This same math teacher then offered “math enhancement classes” in the evenings for which students must pay extra. Jit did not have any money for this so as a result, his math score has suffered. MCC intends to talk to the school authorities about this issue.

For the summer break, Jit plans to go back to his aunt’s village and live with her. Since his parents got divorced, he has lived with his aunt. He’s looking forward to coming back to school again at the end of August.

On the Road Again

We left the graduation party while it was in full swing because we wanted to catch the afternoon bus at 3:00 pm. We arrived at the bus station at 2:15 to learn that the bus had left without us about half an hour ago! A few minutes later, Khamseng negotiated a ride with a van driver and along with some other stranded passengers who wanted to go to Udom Xai. We arrived there around sundown and had supper at a restaurant beside the bus station there.