We had completed lots of English sessions at Big Brother Mouse in Luang Prabang city, so today we were heading out to spend the full day at Big Sister Mouse which is set out in the countryside, about 45 minutes drive away from the city. We met our fellow travellers, a family of 4 from NSW, a Malaysian National from Brisbane, a New Zealand woman and us, along with one of the founders of Big Brother/Big Sister Mouse, Sasha. We all piled into the van and off we went. I must add here that the humidity level was up around 97%, really overwhelming and uncomfortable.
Arriving on site, we were met with a large purpose built building, made out of concrete with numerous rooms over 2 floors. There was a toilet area and an eating area at the back. Some of the rooms were empty, with 1 room being the hub and there were resources, books and games along with 4 older computers, but no internet, the students only have access to things like Word and Excel, this only being available when there is electricity! Over 40 shy and smiling faces greeted us as we made our way through the building, it was going to be a big day!!
Once we had arrived and introductions had been made, it is straight into it! First session is conversational English 1-1 with the older students, while others began by playing games using English instructions and only English language. There were about 20 older students, so it was very busy as we chatted and explained grammar, vocabulary and word building. We rotated through to the younger children who were aged from about 4 years and up and here we found ourselves in small groups, along with a Lao teacher and about 8 students. We spent the next session singing and acting out to songs and rhymes, lots of laughs and heaps of fun.
One of the women in our group is a Primary Teacher, so I suggested to her that we should use the book-"We're Going On A Bear Hunt", which I had discovered on a book shelf still wrapped in cellophane. We agreed that she would read the story, I would do the actions and hopefully the children would join in! I wish we had had the CD, it would have been so much easier. I had forgotten how LONG this story goes for!!! We ended up doing it twice, to 2 different age groups of children and for the teachers to watch, so they can do it themselves. They carefully watched me do the actions, copying and practising.
We stopped for lunch and enjoyed a delicious meal of local food prepared by the dedicated cooks for the school. We then toured the site of the new purpose built, early years school, which Sasha has helped fund, he really is an amazing and inspirational person.
We continued rotating through all the various age groups and working on various activities. Sasha then asked me if I could help one of the older students to put together an air soccer game that he had bought, hmm.... He doesn't know me at all! I am absolutely challenged when it comes to putting things together, to make it worse I am not even interested! I quickly decided this was a job for a Technical Manager, so I headed off to round up Mr Wombat, I knew he would love to do this.
Sasha also asked if we could teach some card games to the Lao teachers, he had purchased a number of good card games designed in Laos and English, but the problem that exists, is the teachers only teach in rote, they are not skilled and have no idea how to use games and activities, inquiry, problem solving or any other method to teach. I noted the total lack of resources for Early Years and wondered about all that could be achieved with teaching aids and a richer curriculum. Given there was nothing a few years ago, this has been an amazing opportunity for the 40+ students currently attending here and I can't lose sight of how far they have come.
We spent time explaining the rules and instructions to the staff and older students, then demonstrating by playing the games and then playing with the younger students. The humidity was taking a toll on some, with sweat pouring of us. Games completed, areas tidied, it was time to wrap things up. We took some time for photos and last minute conversation, bid farewell to our grateful students and teachers and began the trip back to the city. It had rained heavily whilst we were there and our Lao driver slowly but skilfully navigated the rural roads and delivered us safely into town.
I had to laugh at Keith, our young Malaysian friend who kept saying he couldn't believe how exhausting the day had been, working with children is so tiring! Haha, welcome to my world I thought to myself. Mind you, after so many weeks away from work, we were both feeling weary, so we hit our burrow early that night.
That was our final commitment with Big Brother Mouse, we had loved every second and we learned so much from the students. Working with the young Monks was one of our total highlights, they really are insightful with interesting world views. We will be working with the Monks in Chiang Mai later in our trip.