Luang Prabang, Laos in April 2015
Travel report by Lara Twerenbold and Franzisca Gartenmann
On the 24th of April 2015 we arrived in Luang Prabang after a weekly “field trip” through North Eastern Laos, where we visited several schools. As expected, the city had changed quite a bit since Franzisca’s last visit two years ago. Everything seemed busier, which was mainly due to the great number of tourists. But the beautiful streets in their peaceful green along the Mekong and the marvellous temples were still the same. We spent our first day at the Kuan Si waterfalls, which are about an hour away by motorbike from the city centre.
The next day Andrew Brown, the Australian project manager, picked us up and we went to the “Deak Kum Pa Orphanage”. The building appeared to be slightly dirty but in good condition, which was not the case four years ago. 600 children, many of them orphans, live there under very simple conditions.
The dorms seemed pretty cramped and dark due to the high number of children sleeping there. Additionally, the window glasses had been replaced with plastic- and cardboard covers and far from all ventilators were functioning properly. We inspected the water filters and the toilet facilties, which were on a pretty good standard compared to what we had seen on our fieldtrip. What seemed rather spartanic to us, was already a big improvement for the children, most coming from dusty mountain villages.
We played and tinkered with the girls, who were really excited about our visit. On one day, we all prepared a big meal together, which was a lot of fun. A curry with eggs, vegetables and meat for 600 children cost us approximately 200 dollars. It was amazing to see how the smaller children watched us from the kitchen window, hungry eyes following our every move. When it was finally time, a big gong was rung in the dining room and we were literally overrun. Everyone immediately found their place, because they knew exactly where to go.
The food was distributed and after a short time the dining room was empty again. Despite the great hustle, it was very nice to have been part of such an event because we could feel how the children appreciated the big and healthy meal.
Then we came to the exciting and most important part of our trip: the talks with the scholars. They told us how they really enjoyed attending university and how much they appreciated being able to study. Only through the direct dialogs, were we made aware to what extent a scholarship changes their lives and enables them to a life above the poverty line. It was a very humbling day.
Through the scholarship the students can live on a certain standard, but the money usually is just enough for a maximum of two meals a day. However, this does have a positive effect, as almost all of them work in their free time in order to for example buy a cell phone. We were also told that it is extremely rare for someone to drop out of the program, as the young Laotians are well aware of what this unique opportunity means for them and their future. We were very impressed by the story of a boy our age who is studying to become a school teacher. He told us that after his graduation, he would return to his village and work there in order to create new opportunities as well as new perspectives. We were deeply touched by his words, since it proved that investing in education can make a big difference.
Our trip to Luang Prabang really motivated us to find more sponsors, because every scholarship from “Lotus for Laos” empowers another young and hard-working Laotian to leave the circle of poverty and lead a self-determined life. The students have told us how education changes their life for the better and creates new perspectives. Through Andrew, with whom we spent amazing days in the orphanages, we saw that the Swiss donations are being used for scholarships only. Fulfilled and grateful, we returned back home and for a moment the world seemed just a little bit fairer.
Franzisca Gartenmann und Lara Twerenbold
Erlenbach, 24. May 2015