BUILDING A FUTURE FOR BANH MUANG KHAM
I remember sitting at the dining table one hot afternoon, complaining about the amount of homework third graders had to do when I should be outside playing. Telling myself how stupid school was, would I really use all these subjects as an adults and why am I wasting this beautiful day inside instead of outside with my friends. Not only did I grow up in a small town of Opelika, Alabama; I was that 1 out of 5 Asians in my school that spent more time observing the other students than interacting with them. I thought whoever wanted to go to school was an idiot!
My aunt, Monekham, who just came from Laos, would often sit down with us when we did our homework. Interested in the subjects American school s offer, she would ask us how Laotian schools were compared to American schools. She then reminisced about how difficult it was to go to school back in Laos. The children there wanted to go to school but couldn't. I just didn't comprehend what she meant by that. Why would anyone want to go to school when they had an option not to? And she couldn't comprehend why I didn't want to go to school.
As she tried to explain it to me, I could feel the seriousness in her voice, the way her eyes got glassy about a very corrupt country and hard life back in Laos. Even as an 8 yr old, seeing someone's eyes moistens up signified the universal language for sadness. She described her early morning 20 minute walk on a dark dirt road from her village, Baan Muang Kham (Xieng Khouang), to the next village where a school was available. Her village had a small school but it was only from grades 1-3 and the children would be lucky if they had a teacher. After elementary school, she had to go to another city to continue her education. She always reminds us how fortunate we are to have many schools, buses, textbooks, and teachers to accommodate us. She was very proud to grow up without a parent but still get the chance to get an education.
Unlike her, there are thousands of other children who wants to read and write, sit in a classroom and gain book knowledge. They weren't able to do so because there were no schools nearby since Laos is not developed enough due to lack of educational. So many children help out their family by finding jobs at a young age to help feed their parent and other younger kids in the family. It is a game of survival of the fittest. Life was their school and teachings. They would never be able to experience sitting in a classroom and reading a textbook like our kids are in the United States.
When I saw Jai Lao's posting for this contest, I thought of my aunt immediately and knew how much entering her village in this contest would mean to her. After explaining the contest to my aunt, she repeately asked, "Wow, so they are really going to build an actual school, school? With teachers?" The excitement in her voice was priceless.
With the lack of knowledge I have on Baan Muang Kham, I started doing my research and also had my aunt contact some of her family and friends in this village. Please forgive me if some of my facts are off, but getting resources on such a small village is so limited, we can only go by the information that were given from a relative who currently resides there. Baan Muang Kham is a small village of about 30 families. The village consists of an old elementary school, that often lacks teachers. If a school is built there, not only Baan Muang Kham but the surrounding small villages will benefit from walking lesser miles for education. Children will have consistency in education because the governor will provide teachers for them. As you can see, all the Googling I did about this tiny village wouldn't be enough resource for me to speak so thoroughly about. This is how unexplored part of Laos are, to know more about this part I would have to speak to people who once lived in this village. Right now Laos is islolated from the rest of the world, not only through educational advancement, but also because the people there don't have the tools to communicate to the rest of the world about where they come from. That's why it's so important to build schools and bring awareness to everyone outside of Laos. It starts with a small gesture and from there on, it grows and maybe one day we can build a school in every village just like American has schools for every X amount per capital.
Here I am, over two decades later and finally realizing what my aunt said to me made sense. My friend MeMe and I had a conversation about how we always wanted to have a foundation of our own to help Laotian and Thai people back at home-we didn't know how or what, but we knew we wanted to do something. But did it matter as long as we are dedicated, and inspire others to do the same? Whether it is raising money to send supplies back home, building a school, or even educating today's youth about keeping our traditions alive, we know that it starts with "you". We both told each other with faith and supporters behind us it could happen.
So when we came across Jai Lao's contest we knew we had to do our best. This opportunity will give both of us a wonderful experience to serve on one of Jai Lao great missions. Being raised in America for almost 30 years and living the American way doesn't mean we have to lose all sense and tradition of our Laotian way. We surely don't have the appearance of traditional Asians, but that's what would set us a part from the stereotype. If we could educate other younger 2nd, 3rd generation Laotians in America about our mission and/or traditions, then we can keep our culture alive and not let it wash away.