I am writing this post from my favorite cafe in Luang Prabang, Saffron. It has amazing coffee along with riverside seating. As I take some time to reflect on my time here in Luang Prabang as a teacher I think it’s only fitting that I do it from my favorite viewpoint with a strong Americano in hand.
It’s hard to believe that five weeks ago I was beginning my teaching adventure with orientation and yesterday I had my last class in the classroom. The past five weeks have been some of the most rewarding weeks of my life. We took pictures yesterday and I wish I could post a picture of their sweet faces and wonderful smiles. For privacy reasons I am not allowed to post pictures of students’ faces so you’ll just have to believe me!
My weeks have been busy between lesson planning, travel time, and teaching. Despite the long days I went to bed every night feeling happy and content.
My mornings were spent on a buffalo farm teaching three young women around 18-19 years old. They have an internship on the farm helping in the kitchen and eventually the cafe when it opens. They help make mozzarella, ricotta, and blue cheese along with ice cream and yogurt from the buffalo milk. My time focused on helping them with vocabulary as it related to working in a kitchen and cafe. Some of the grammar focused on understanding prepositions (on, in, under, behind, etc.) and single/plural sentences using the verbs is/are. For example the coffee is on the table and the eggs are in the refrigerator. The girls loved to sing! So we often had fun breaking out into song. The Beatles Here Comes the Sun, James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend, and Justin Bieber’s Baby Baby were on repeat! Saying goodbye to them may have brought a few tears to my eyes!
I had a more traditional teaching assignment in the afternoon. Students would come to an English learning center after their regular school day.
The students came in everyday saying “Hello, Teacher” and smiling. They were engaging, polite, and eager to practice their English. Class started every day with the students standing up and saying, “Good afternoon, teacher, how are you today?” I would respond and proceed to ask each individual student how they were. Common responses included “I am very happy” or “I am very tired” or “I am very sad”. My response back was “why are you happy/tired/sad?” They were usually happy because they got to study English or see Teacher. They were usually tired because they had to ride their bicycle long distances or if it was a Thursday afternoon they were often tired because they spend Thursday afternoon’s cleaning the classrooms and bathrooms at their school. Yes, the students are responsible for cleaning the school each week. This past Friday a couple of students said they were sad because it was Teacher’s last day. Indeed it was sad for me, too.
On any given day I would have 2 – 7 students in my afternoon class. Friday was usually the lightest of the days. Most of the students I worked with lived away from their families. Their families were still in their home villages but they had moved to Luang Prabang to have access to education. Some of the girls live with family members i.e. a sibling or distant relative that had moved to Luang Prabang while other girls live on their own in a dormitory/guesthouse. As a result, many students traveled home to their villages on Friday afternoons.
Class ended with the students standing and saying, “Thank you, Teacher, for your teaching. See you tomorrow.” This was typically followed with hugs and high fives as the students left the classroom. I had six female students and one male student who had a sister studying English at the same time. The students ranged in age from 13 – 17.
Since the students always said “see you tomorrow” at the end of every class the song Tomorrow from the movie Annie always played in my head. Since the students enjoy singing my last class with them was learning the words to the song and singing it together. The students love reading and learning new words. We spent time going over the words and adding them to their ever growing vocabulary list. I quickly learned that miming and acting were handy tools when trying to explain vocabulary. My acting skills have really improved and I would be a great charades partner at the moment!
My afternoon English class was followed by a female health workshop. The goal of the workshop was to inform and empower Lao girls to know more about what’s going on with their bodies as females. Many females in Lao do not have access to menstrual health knowledge and/or sanitation materials especially in remote villages. The organization I am volunteering with has set up a partnership with the organization Days for Girls. Days for Girls partners with organizations across the globe in order to bring sustainable menstrual health kits and knowledge to girls and women in remote areas. The ultimate goal of the evening workshop is to have these young women be the ones to deliver the presentation instead of strictly translating the material from a westerner.
The exciting news is that some of the menstrual health kits and presentations are happening my last week in Lao. I have been invited to join a small group of people who will travel to five remote villages in Northern Lao over the course of next week to assist in the presentation and help hand out the menstrual health kits to girls and women.
I will dedicate an entire post to this project and trip so more to come.
This is my last full weekend in Luang Prabang. We leave early Monday morning for the villages. We return Friday or Saturday, and I leave Sunday. Here are a few other pictures from my time here as a teacher.