We’ve arrived in the little Lao town of Luang Prabang and are blown away, it’s the most delightful and picturesque little place you could ever hope to imagine. Wedged onto a tiny little strip of land between the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers the old town is an architectural masterpiece.
The streets are dripping with colonial gems and spread throughout are dozens of Buddhist temples that give the town a very special and unique feel. The lack of traffic and the hundreds of young Buddhist novices walking the streets with their distinctive saffron colored robes, sheltering themselves from the sun with umbrellas all add up to creating a real sense of calm contentment.
One of the many highlights of this wonderful town is the morning almsgiving procession, one of the truly great sights of Asia, hundreds of monks and novices, all moving silently in a single file through the dawn town streets as the local residents offer up alms. The idea being the more they give without expecting anything in return, the wealthier they become.
It’s a very beautiful and moving scene, and one that should be on the bucket list of anybody traveling to this part of the world.
But it’s not the highlight of our stay, that prize goes to Big Brother Mouse.
A small publishing house started by a retired American publisher, it’s a not-for-profit organization aimed at raising the education standards of the Lao population.
They started in 2006 with just six books coming off the presses and by 2011 more than 110,000 rural Lao children got their hands on their first book thanks to the hard work organized through Big Brother Mouse.
But that’s not all they do, they also have a program called, ” Help a young person with their English skills”. And it does exactly that.
The building is tucked away down a quiet little street in the center of town, it’s a nondescript little shopfront and it’s here where anyone interested in helping out can drop in and meet some of the locals, have a chat with them or help out with their school work and English studies. Many of the locals who attend are hoping to raise their English standards, both written and spoken to help themselves gain better employment and get a greater standard of living.
It’s not all hard work and grim schooling though, there’s lots of laughter and smiles from both sides of the table. Some of the students are shy at first and not at all sure if they’re speaking clearly enough for us to understand, but we both muddle through and end up learning a lot about each other and our very different cultures.
You can buy some of the published books right there in the shop and donate them back to the organization who go out on regular trips to the surrounding villages and distribute them to the children, along with a growing number of adult books for the older students as well.
Many Lao people are eager to learn English but have very little way to accomplish that, few have teachers who are fluent and those from the smaller villages may have never seen a book before. We really enjoyed our time here and found the process of meeting some local people a wonderful and rare experience.
And the answer to what the name Big Brother Mouse means, well, it seems that In Lao, family terms are often used for people you are close to, even if they aren’t related. Big Brother or Big Sister is the term used to describe an older person who helps out a younger one. And the mouse just makes it fun.
So check them out either on their website where you can donate or drop in when you get to Luang Prabang.
All photos copyright Ross Duncan: firstname.lastname@example.org