BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN

10 06 2010

After our tour of the Laos by motorbike we decided to settle down in Luang Prabang for a few days. We spent the first couple of days touring some of the 36 temples located in this UNESCO World Heritage listed city. We also visited the royal palace museum as Luang Prabang was the former Lao capital. But there is something else about the city that we love and it was very easy to just settle in and stay for a few days. We wandered the streets and visited shops all while sampling some of the local cuisine as we went. In the evenings we would grab some snacks and wander through what some have called the best night market in SE Asia. We also had time to slow down and think about our trip both where we have been and where we are going. Up until this point we have been really just travelling without much of a plan. We have just made our way to a destination and then figured out where we could go next by seeing what kind of transportation connections where available.  There really has only been one exception to this and that has been some of the visas we were required to get before we left home notably Vietnam, China and Russia. Of the three the Russian visa is proving to be the biggest problem in that it was issued with a fixed date that is rapidly approaching. So after some discussions about what our goals for the trip are and what was really important to us we came to the conclusion that we are going to skip Russia. This is a bit of a disappointment but in order for us to make it through Russia we would have had to start moving North right away giving us very little time in China and Mongolia. Now without the pressure of a date we would have had to have made we can spend some more time in SE Asia which not only have we been enjoying imensly but is also significantly less expensive than Russia. So now that we have decided to stick around a little longer we decided to stay a little longer in Laos and perform a little mission. One of the places we visited while staying in Luang Prabang is an organization called Big Brother Mouse. Their goal is to promote literacy through out the country by publishing inexpensive books and making them available to the children of the country either through special programs or donations. As both of us are avid readers and book lovers we loved this idea and really wanted to see if we could do something. After stopping by the shop to check out the books they had available we learned that they also had an english practice class every morning. We came back the following day and had a wonderful time helping a group of Lao teenagers practice their english. This was also a great opportunity for us as we where able to ask them many questions and we got to learn a lot about life in their country. After the class we purchased about 60 different books which ranged from learning ABC’s and math to folk tales and stories. The books are well written and produced with many published in both Lao and English. So now about our special mission. We decided we would like to get back on the road and distribute the books to some of the children we saw while passing through some of the remote villages along the way. So I managed to find out that the motorbike we had rented was in Vang Vieng and was able to have them keep it there for us. We then made the six hour journey by minibus down to Vang Vieng where we picked up the bike. In the afternoon we took a ride to the west and really got off the beaten track. After stopping to explore a cave we drove for about 25km’s on a mud and dirt road over several rickety bridges and through a couple of water crossings. It was very beautiful with limestone peaks rising all around us and many quiet little villages along the way. We also found a nice stretch of empty road where Justyna got to try riding a bike for the first time. After a great ride we where very wet and dirty so we headed back to town to get cleaned up and grab a bite to eat. Our original plan for the next day was to head back north and then east with the books to some of the villages we had passed during our original road trip but while having dinner in town we met someone who changed our minds a bit. Tialee our waiter that evening told us about a youth community center in his village just north of Vang Vieng. He invited us to come by in the morning and see what they had going on. So we met up with him in the morning and stopped in to see the facility. It was very nice, it had been started by a local who owns an organic farm just down the road and also received some funding from Korea and Singapore. The center was a great place for the children of the village to come during the day while their parents worked either in town or the surrounding fields. They also had a computer learning room, english classes and a library. We met some of the staff who worked there as well as some of the children. In the end we asked if they would like some of the books we had for the library. All in all they took about 15 books that they felt would be useful. From the youth center we continued down the road to the organic farm where we had a delicious breakfast. We also took a walk around the property visiting their goats and seeing the many variaties of fruits they had growing of which they are most known for their crop of mulberries. As it was now getting a bit late to head north we decided to revise our plan. After seeing some of the villages the day before we decided that they too would be a good place to bring the books. So we headed back to town and crossed the bridge and again headed west off into the country side. We first stopped by couple of young boys walking along the road and let them pick a couple of books. They where very shy at first but eventually warmed up and where delighted in the new books they received. These children are not used to owning anything and it is amazing to see the smiles on their faces as they receive most likely their first book they have likely ever owned. We then stopped another group of children ranging from 4 years old or so to about 13 and gave them all a book, it was so nice as they all started to sit down look through them with such interest right away. It became apparent immediately that we did not have that many books to give away so we tried to give out a couple in each village as we made our way further west. After a couple of hours we finally gave away our last books to group of four boys working with their father near the end of the valley. They where all farmers and appeared to be very poor and I think seeing the look on the oldest boys face of genuine astonishment as he looked through the pages of his new book was probably the most rewarding moment of the day for me. We made our way back through the dirt, water and mud towards town. Justyna even drove with me on the back for about 5km’s or so. We had a great day out on my only regret is that we did not have more books to give away. So I have another idea and I am going to ask if any of you out there would be interested in helping. One of the things the Big Brother Mouse organization is offering is something called a Book Party where they go to a village and give out books to all of the local children as well as some to the school’s library. They also have games and lessons in order to help promote literacy. You can find out more about Big Brother Mouse and the parties at :

http://www.bigbrothermouse.com/index.htm

To sponsor the party will cost between $250 and $350. We are planning on sponsoring one of the parties ourselves but if there is anyone of you out there who would like to put a smile on someones face and make a difference in their lives please let us know. In a country with an average daily income of $1 even a small amount can make a difference. Each book casts between $1-2 so it does not take much to help. If you do want to help just let us know at andrewewelch@wildblue.net. If you do send us a donation we will be happy to send you pictures of the party.  So that is it we are spending one more day in Vang Vieng before we drive back to Vientiane. From there we will likely continue on into Thailand for a week or two. I hope all is well with everyone at home and please think “BOOKS”.

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One response

11 06 2010
Adam

Hello Both of yous,

I am happy to see a little less photos of you guys in helmets… you look like you are on a tour as Space Ball troopers.

Super good riding Justina. It is sort of just like a bicycle but with better breaks and that doesn’t make your legs so tiered…at least until you try to put the kick stand down.

Pretty great about the book thing that you are getting into. I wonder though what is the content of said books being distributed? I think if you are gonna start up a literacy program they should drop a few volumes of Dr. Seuss, a dictionary (a good one) and a world atlas. That’s about all one needs for at least 5 years or so. Probably after a few weeks of intensive reading they will be on par with most of our high school students.

I will try to see if I can scrape some funds together for your project, although things are a bit tight right now as you well can figure. Well, I do know that my copy of Neruda’s Residence on Earth is somewhere walking around Indonesia right now… maybe it will make its way up there — might help inadvertently.
And Andy maybe you ought to put some of your know-how together and build them kids some chairs. Reading is one thing but sitting on the ground for hours to do so gets a little rough on the bum.

My best you both,
Adam

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