Pencils of Promise Part Two
Thank you for joining me back again to see and hear more about my trip from Laos. As a reminder, almost two years ago, the Rising Tide Society held an online summit in order to raise money to build a school with an organization called the Pencils of Promise. We were so lucky to have raised $50,000 in order to build a school for Pencils of Promise and I was fortunate enough to go visit Laos and see all the good work that Pencils of Promise was doing. Today I want to cover the second and third day of my Pencils of Promise field trip.
That morning, when we woke up, we all walked over to Joma together. Joma is probably the closest thing you can come to regarding a chain in Southeast Asia. Joma is a coffee shop and they also have other coffee shops in the surrounding countries. They were instrumental to the building of Pencils of Promise. When Adam, the founder of Pencils of Promise, decided to take on this venture, he partnered with Joma, who then donated proceeds of certain beverages and certain sales to Pencils of Promise in order to kickstart their beginning. Ever since then, Joma has been an integral part to Pencils of Promise in Laos and their success. It was very fitting that our first official day visiting the schools would start off having breakfast at Joma.
After breakfast, we took a car ride over to visit the very first school that was ever built through Pencils of Promise. I can honestly say I had no idea what to expect. As soon as we pulled in, there were children everywhere and they were just so, so very excited. They all came running out of their classrooms and they stood in a big line, clapping and cheering, and handing us flowers, and just giving us the biggest and warmest welcome a person could ever ask for. These kids were filled with so much joy, so much love, and they were so shy, it was adorable.
They really didn’t want to get their photos taken, which is kind of weird because I am a photographer, so I always want to take photos. But I had a trick up my sleeve. I brought with me a Polaroid camera. I would take a Polaroid camera, hand it to the child, and when they finally figured out what I was giving them, everyone got so excited. I was getting swarmed and I was constantly getting backed into corners because I had so many kids that wanted Polaroid pictures of themselves. In order for them to get a Polaroid picture, I would make sure that they could stand, and pose, and smile for a digital picture first. Once they did that, then they would take the Polaroid picture. They were so thrilled and so happy. Some of the kids were even fighting for the opportunity for a picture. I SO wished I would have packed a whole suitcase of just polaroid film!!
We got to see the children in their classrooms, got to see the teachers teaching, doing what they do best, and then we took a giant group picture afterwards. Some of the other guests that came on the field trip were playing soccer with the kids and just having a ball of a time. Everyone was so happy and so joyful. My heart was so incredibly full from that visit and I had no clue it could get even more full as my journey continued.
Soon after that, we crossed over the Mekong River on a ferry. Probably the most crazy, weirdest, unsafe-ish and cramped ferry I’d ever been on. We crossed over the river to a small community where we did an activity, a scouting activity. This is what happens when Pencils of Promise first learns about a school that might be in need. They send out representatives to scout the school and they do a survey. We got to participate in that activity, scouting out a school that may need in help of Pencils of Promise’s support. We talked with the employees that worked for Pencils of Promise and what they do, how they do it, and the things that they were looking for. It was really good insight into what happens behind the scenes and the thoroughness of evaluations before Pencils of Promises decides to put their foothold in a community.
We were also greeted with a coconut welcome, which is where they chop up fresh coconuts for us, toss a straw in there, and we have fresh coconut milk to drink. (yum) It was amazing and so good. I drank my entire coconut. (pretty sure I was the only one that did that)
When we left the school, we came back to the city and we went and visited the UXO Museum. This was something completely unexpected for me because I had no idea how prevalent the issue of unexploded ordinances were still in Laos. It was amazing that even years after the war, there were so many unexploded ordinances just littered throughout the country and so many areas that have gone unchecked where children, and moms, and families have accidentally stumbled upon these and have severely injured themselves. It literally broke my heart knowing that there are kids that always wonder that if they’re playing in the right spot or if they’re playing in an area that might be dangerous. It’s something as simple as just walking down the side of the road or seeing something and picking it up and not realizing that it’s a bomb. It was very eyeopening to visit the UXO Museum and just see about the things that they were trying to do to make the country safe for the children, for the people, for the families that live in this country.
We ended the night with dinner at Tamarind, which was absolutely amazing. I would definitely highly recommend it if you’re ever in that area. But then everyone went back and pretty much crashed for the night. I know that some people went to the night market, which they have every evening, but I was just so tired that I went back, did a little bit of work, and hit the bed.
The very next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and then we took a pretty long car ride to a new build. This was a school that was still in the building process, and so there was a lot of construction. What I found the most interesting about Pencils of Promise is that unlike other organizations that are nonprofit that are giving back to communities, before they actually start a community project, they require that the community provides 20% of the final build. That doesn’t mean that they have to provide 20% in terms of dollars because these villages are not wealthy, which is why we are building schools in these villages. We’re asking for materials and labor. Most of the time, people are able to provide labor. The community is invested because they’re providing 20%, most of the time, 20% of the labor and/or materials in order to build the school, so that we know that they care, we know that they want this to happen, and we know that they want the best for their children and their community.
When we got to the construction site, it was amazing. They had set out tents and were preparing lunch for us and actually threw us a surprise Baci ceremony, which is absolutely amazing. It was our first Baci ceremony in Laos and it was such a special moment to take part of.
But before we could do that, we had to get our hands dirty. We started off doing some painting. After we were doing painting, we moved onto mixing cement and then pouring cement into their new walkway in front of the building. We got super dirty, filled with lots of paint, shoes filled with cement, but it was so worth it because we were able to have the ceremony with the community. Everyone gave us their blessings and then we had an amazing lunch within the community and got to really have authentic food from all of the families that were helping prepare everything for that day for us. It was amazing and it was so heartfelt because everyone just loved having us there and they were so grateful, and we were grateful for them.
Afterwards, we traveled to one other school, which was one of Lanoy’s favorites. We had such an amazing welcome and then all the kids went inside the classrooms to pull our chairs and benches for use to sit on so that they could perform two dances for us. They gave us a coconut welcome and really showed us their hospitality. The dances were so very sweet and the little were A-D-O-R-able!! So much fun to be had with them and they all loved photos!!
When we finally got back and got settled and got ready for dinner, we went to a wonderful place called Secret Pizza. In order to get to it, we had to really travel down some crazy, dark alleyways to get to this place. Hence, the name Secret Pizza. It was absolutely amazing. It was actually owned by this Italian guy. The food was the best. I am still shocked by how affordable the food is there. But it also makes me grateful and humble to live where I live, where I take for granted that our dollar here in the United States is valued at a lot more in other countries.
Overall, I loved my second and third day. I don’t think my heart could have gotten any more full, and it just did. Every single day, every single trip we went to, every single school we went to, it just got fuller and fuller, and I was just filled with all the feels, all the emotions, and I loved, loved, loved everyone that I met.
I cannot wait to share with you my last two days with Pencils of Promise and afterwards, the days that I spent with my family. Stay tuned.