On October 17, 2008, I went to visit Nongdong Elementary School in Muang Phonethong, Champassak Province after my visit to Dannavieng Elementary School.
For the people living in this area, Ban Nongdong is known as Ban Nai (inner village) and Ban Dannavieng is known as Ban Nork (outer village) because of the location from the main road. I took too much time at Dannavieng Elementary School even though my uncle urged me we had to get going if I was going to get to Nongdong Elementary School and see the students in their classes.
If we get there too late the students would be taking their afternoon break at 15:00 hour (3:00 PM) before they go home for the weekend. My uncle also wanted to beat the rain and said it was coming.
When we arrived at the school I made a run for the first grade class. Nongdong Elementary School is home to one of our Book Box Libraries and is also going through a rebuilding process. The newly built but incomplete school is smaller than Dannavieng Elementary School but has a concrete floor. The building project at Nongdong Elementary School is funded by two villages, Ban Nongdong and a near by village that doesn’t have a school but has been sending the children to this school and outside donors.
I was able to greet the first graders as they sat there on the grass mat since they don’t have any desk or chair to use during the study time. Despite their limited resource, these students have so much energy and are so well behave for 5 years old. They sang a thank you and goodbye song to their teacher and ran out the door to the school yard by 15:04 hour (3:04 PM).
I asked the superintendent of the school about our Book Box Library and was told that the school has not made a good use of the book box due to lack of space. Unlike Dannavieng Elementary School, Houaylao Elementary School and Phonsikhay Elementary School, Nongdong Elementary School has no office for the superintendent and the teachers. It was in the planning that a new office would be built next to the main school building but that will take some time.
At the moment the Book Box Library is kept in a safe place and books are taken out to be used when needed since they can’t carry the big box to the school all the time. Until the new office is built the current plan is to divide the first grade classroom into two sections and turn one part into an office and put the Book Box Library there.
Despite the lack of resources that we are so used to in the western countries, I had an impression these students are making the best of what they have. The fifth graders were busy and happy during their activity period before their late afternoon break. They were making things out of palm leaves as part of their learning and creativity process. Who would have thought something as ordinary as palm leaves can be turn into a learning tool in Laos.
Whether they realized it or not, these students are in a much better position than many of their neighboring schools. They have been given the power of knowledge as owner of the Book Box Library. Now all they need to do is to utilize their Book Box Library to its full potentials.