A Corner To Read

This story is about books, teachers and volunteers. This is a story about simple solutions that make rippling change.

I had the opportunity to see a project called “Basic Education Quality and Access in Lao PDR (BEQUAL)”, a program led by the Government of Laos and the Government of Australia, with the support of the European Union, where I visited two schools in Houaphan Province. The visit was to two primary schools, both in remote and hard to access villages. We had to be on the road for several hours, on dirt and mud roads that were far from smooth or straight. I was told often that in the rainy season, which lasts several months, it is unsafe or impossible to travel parts of these roads.

It was a wake-up call and a reminder that many people have to face different challenges to simply show up in school. I was accompanied by staff from ChildFund, which is an NGO that is focused on children and youth. In Laos, BEQUAL is supporting education for disadvantaged children especially girls, disabled and ethnic children and working with NGOs such as Childfund focusing on education, water and sanitation.

School children in Laos
Bookshelf for books

When the staff at ChildFund pointed to the back of the classroom I thought they wanted to show me the books. I nodded and quickly remarked at how “fun” the books looked. They quickly laughed and told me that what they wanted to show me was actually the bookshelf.

I didn’t understand!

They explained that in the past the books were in a box in the back of the classroom. Students were not able to see them and their interest in reading just wasn’t there. In a simple solution, bookshelves were created and displayed for the students.

Complementing the displayed books were Reading Volunteers like Lingsong who takes time out of her day to help children from the village read and write. What I personally know from volunteering is that it’s not always easy and when our society values “time” as a rare commodity, giving it up in the service of others seems backwards. Through this encounter I was reminded of the positive reasons why we volunteer – to help, support, nurture and ultimately give back to the community.

Reading volunteer

School teacher

Another simple, yet meaningful, solution I saw was a hand washing system where one long pipe stretched over a narrow box of flowers. The pipe had holes distributed evenly to make hand washing accessible to many students at once. There were even small bags of soap tied to the pipe. There were also efforts to improve personal hygiene and health with individual toothbrushes given to the students.

Simple solution for hand washing and watering plants
Toothbrush station used once a day after lunch

What I really believe is important, and what BEQUAL and ChildFund are doing with EU and Australia’s support, is to focus on remote and hard to reach areas. I saw students who were keen to learn and their opportunities shouldn’t be blocked off like roads in the rainy season, but rather we need to support people who are making bridges and building new roads (both literally and metaphorically).

Laos children drawing of home and school

What I love to see, is how children perceive their image of home – for the school children here I see lots of mountains, trees, houses on wooden stilts, rivers and even rice paddies.

I believe so fully in the creativity, resourcefulness and intelligence of children, but I also recognise their vulnerabilities. I hope education is continually supported and the barriers to learning are knocked down so there is hope for the children to continue being their creative, resourceful and intelligent selves

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