November 22, 2018
Pencils of Promise Part One
Let’s start at the beginning. Nearly 2 years ago, The Rising Tide Society held an online summit where creative entrepreneurs could tune in for a donation as little as $1.00. The online summit ended up raising $50,000. That was what we needed to build a school with Pencils of Promise (PoP).
Short recap: Partnered with Honeybook as their community arm, The Rising Tide Society is an organization committed to cultivating the sense of community over competition in efforts of raising the tide for everyone. With that, Rising Tide has hundreds of chapters all over the world which they call Tuesdays Together. I am one of the co-leaders of my local Appleton chapter.
Soon after we raised the monies for Pencils of Promise, we got in contact and then patiently waited. We found out the news on April 6th (or at least I did), that we were matched with a school in Thong Tai, Laos. Immediately, I was hit with a plethora of emotions and memories. I promptly got to writing a note to Natalie Franke (Founder) and Kait Masters (Community Support Manager) sharing a tid bit of my story and asking to be involved in any way. (I’m Hmong, a large nationality residing in Laos – read more HERE)
A month later, I got a call from Natalie and Kait. I was a little nervous because they both wanted to video chat with me…which never really happens, lol. On the call, Natalie dropped the news that Pencils of Promise offered 2 seats for Rising Tide and Honeybook to join them in Laos for a PoP field-trip to visit the school and all the goodness they are doing in Laos. AND…they wanted me to take the Rising Tide seat. (insert sobbing mess of all three of us) It was SO much to take in and I wasn’t even sure what to think since I was still just in shock that something like this was really going to happen. It was definitely a pinch me moment. After sharing with my family – whom also became another sobbing mess — the planning started.
Fast forward 6 months later, and I’m flying over the Mekong river as we prepare for landing in Luang Prabang, Laos.
Sunday, November 11th
I arrived into the airport at Luang Prabang and made a terrible mistake. As I was checking into customs, I noticed that the person that checked my passport had a surname that was likely Hmong. The extrovert in me went ahead and had some small talk with him. After telling him I was traveling alone to Laos, he quickly left and I got pulled aside so that everyone could double check my paperwork. I was so worried that something was wrong of it they had something against a Hmong/Lao-American returning to Laos. In hindsight, I was informed that they likely worried that I was there to find myself a husband or join my family and concerned I might try to stay. LOL.
Once that all got sorted out, I was let go and as I walked out, I was greeted with the most amazing PoP team. They were all standing there with arms wide open and a beautiful floral bouquet.I don’t think I could have imagined a better welcome to Laos.
Because I was the first of the group to arrive, Hannah (PoP) kindly brought me to the hotel to drop off my luggage and we proceeded to walk to one of the absolute best cafes in all of Luang Prabang. No joke, it’s so good that I ended up going there multiple times in the short time I was in Laos. We sat with our coffees overlooking the Mekong river before heading to Coconut Garden to meet up with the rest of the group to have lunch.
Not only did we get to have some amazing Lao food, but we also met the rest of our group and really started the bond to get to know each other and find out about each others involvement with PoP. After our lunch, we got settled into our hotels and began with a walking tour of Luang Prabang. As we found out, things in Laos don’t always happen as planned and sometimes places will just randomly be closed. Like…the Royal Museum which decided that day it was going to close and lock it’s gate.
All was well as we ended up climbing to the top of the Mount Phousi and enjoying the views of the entire city. The climb wasn’t to bad — lots of stairs — but overall easy to make it up there and not super time consuming. We settled back into our hotel rooms to freshen up from our tour. We realized just how hot and humid it was as we had all sweated through our clothes.
That evening, we all had traditional Lao BBQ and it was SO amazing!! You are simply served with raw meats and vegetables and then cook them on a hot plate surrounded by hot water. We all took turns grabbing different veggies and dropping them into the water to make a tasty broth. The juices from the hotplate would roll down into the water and veggies to add some flavor. We truly got creative in everything and made some awesome food to eat. Many thanks to Paige who was adventurous and just went at it!! LOL
Exhausted from two days of traveling and a full day in Luang Prabang coupled with jet lag, I’m confident in saying that everyone passed out nicely that evening.