As a lot of people, I believe that education is the best weapon to fight poverty. We live in an age where millions of people in developing countries have to survive on less than 2 dollars a day. Poverty means that over 121 million children are out of education worldwide
Only half of children in developing countries attend secondary school.
It is a circle of chronicle poverty. Young people don’t go to schools because their families can’t afford paying fees. In the future they don’t have the skills to help themselves, so they become poor adults. And they can’t afford paying fees for their kids schools.
I experience that lack in education everyday in Laos, going to villages where books are still rare and pencils considered as luxury treats. The children are so eager to learn, so curious. I have often improvised English lessons in the middle of villages were children were all suddenly gathering around me with the few English books they had, trying to practice. They love learning new words: animals, nature, food…each lesson is a bit of hope, a new step to a more promising future.
So please, while visiting villages, bring them pens and books. Do not give kids money! I have seen many tourists coming to villages and giving out small bills to the children. Even if it is always with good intention, giving children money usually creates the opposite effect. In fact, instead of helping them, you are nourishing the dependency and ruining chances of empowerment. The risk: the children will prefer to wait in the streets for tourists and gain easy short term money, instead of going to school, their only chance to get education and a future job. We need to send them to school, not to the streets.
As the proverb says: “ Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”. Education is the key to economic development and sustainability, for children and adults. Giving time, consideration and knowledge is therefore much more relevant than just money; therefore, we can all participate to make change.
I met 3 amazing organizations in Laos operating to improve Education, first step to empowerment. They have chosen their weapons to fight poverty: pencils and books.
- Pencil of promises:
The story began when a young entrepreneur, Adam Braun, was traveling through India. He found a small boy begging on the streets and asked him, “What do you want most in the world?” The boy answered, “A pencil.” Following that experience, in 2008, when he was just 24 years old, Braun started a nonprofit organization called Pencils of Promise with $25 in hopes of building one school. This year, the organization plans to build 100 schools and fund 1 million days of education for students all over the world ! They currently have schools in Laos, Nicaragua and Guatemala. In just under 4 years, the organization has grown thanks to the efforts of hundreds of interns, thousands of young professional volunteers and a truly enviable social media following. (with almost 200,000 fans on Facebook, PoP is one of the more socially active, emerging nonprofits out there).
It is a great initiative. And I must say… I really love their spirit:
“Pencils of Promise believe every child should have access to quality education. We create schools, programs, and global communities around the common goal of education for all. We’re the impossible ones. We want to start revolutions with a pencil and a backpack. We want to test the edge of the world by feeling its curves. We want to see more, be more, do more. We stay up late reading books we love and play our music way too loud. We inhale life and exhale fire. We know that we can create a better world through education. We believe in this wholeheartedly. “
- Big Brother Mouse : A book for every child
Big Brother Mouse is a not-for-profit publishing project in Laos founded 6 years ago by retired book publisher Sasha Alyson. It focuses on publishing books that improve literacy and quality of life; and on making those books accessible, particularly in rural Lao villages. Indeed, books are rare in Laos. Many people have never read anything except old textbooks and government pamphlets, some children have even never seen a book before!
Their mission: publish “Books that make literacy fun!” Its first books, published in 2006, were easy picture books designed to have a strong appeal for children. Since then, it has expanded to publish books for all ages, “designed not only to make reading fun, but also to share information about the wider world.” A growing number of titles focus on health, nutrition, history, and science.
In 2010, more than 85,000 rural Lao children got the first book they had ever owned, through a Big Brother Mouse book party sponsored by people like you.
I warmly encourage you to visit Big Brother Mouse shop in Luang Prabang, either to :
- bye books, and give them to children if you are planning to visit villages ( or as useful “tips” or gifts in cities),
- sponsor a “ book party” ( a 3 hours exciting event in rural villages were staff brings book and connect with children through story telling, art lesson, games and the creation of a mini-library)
- volunteer to teach English at the daily conversational classes, in order to help young people improving their English skills and gain confidence.
I volunteered the week I was in Luang Prabang. I really recommend it. It is an amazing experience as you can meet young Lao students and monks, ask them questions about their culture and share your own knowledge on your country …I had great moments at the shop when sharing with all these young people. They are all really fun, bright and so motivated. It is priceless.
- The Luang Prabang Library
An other wonderfull initiative in Luang Prabang, that supports libraries and reading promotion in many surrounding villages It is supported by both the Lao government and foreign charities. The library, in cooperation with Cooperative Learning International operates the Lao Children’s Library Boats, the only two in Laos. It brings books to children in 75 Mekong and Ou River villages, as well as giving book bags of 100 books to more villages.
So if you are in Luang Prabang, visit the library, exchange books, buy souvenirs to raise money for the library or buy books for a book bag to go to a village. You can also make donations to the Luang Prabang Public Library through The Language Project (an American NGO…).
Laos, July 2012 - Alice Vivian