Volunteer work in Laos this summer gave me the opportunity to learn love and respect for religion and nature. This was the most unforgettable time of my university life.
Rivers are central to the cultures of Asian countries – and their peoples show deep respect for them. For centuries the Chinese people have relied on the Yellow River; in India, people express their devout faith bathing in the Ganges; and Laos has its own Mother River – the Mekong. Although I come from a country whose culture stems from its rivers, I have never reached my own Mother River. But this summer, I learned the importance of a river for a country, a nation and a civilization. The Mekong is home to Vientiane the capital city of Laos and it is also a major communication corridor. Thailand is just across the river. Phnom Penh, a night's sleeper bus away downstream. There are surprises at every turn; a night market stretching along the river bank, with tents spread out and used as a storefront, full of residents, visitors, and shoppers.
I take an opportunity to see the river at close hand. The sun is setting fast, but the Mekong still reflects the golden sunlight. Taking off my shoes, I walk into the warm river. Standing peacefully, I see the river bed under my feet. I give the river, the sun, and the beautiful view a big hug.
In Kai-wai Wong's film, The Grandmaster, a dialogue impressed me: Being, Knowing, Doing; three different levels of cognizing the world. Foolish men believe they are the god of the world after they get a little strength, but they hardly understand how weak they are and never achieve anything. So we should be modest and respect nature, the real power from god. Next, people should understand other people's emotions, thoughts and consciousness. We ought to respect the power of people. Lastly, the highest level is Doing. That means follow your heart and esteem yourself – then you will get sudden enlightenment in your own power. When I stand in the Mekong River, I realize the splendid power of nature. Noise from the night market expresses the happiness of people. Amazing, it seems that I recognize my own power. I feel love and respect for the world. I even enjoy myself, once I find the peace and balance from my heart.
There is a very special monument in the centre of Vientiane city – the Patuxay Monument. "Is it the Arc De Triomphe in Paris?" – that was my first impression. While in the form of a western building construction, I found that it was designed to pay homage to the Laotian national culture and traditions. The frescoes on the wall are not stories that eulogize national heroes or winning affairs, but Buddhist mythology. Laotian people are the holy followers of the Hinayana. People relieve and release their souls from purgatory through themselves. Buddhist pagoda and dragons, typical Hinayana symbols, decorate the structure. We notice a dragon, made of stone, standing along the wall. The vivid carving makes the body strong, roaring to the sky.
I think the monument shows that Laos is eager to grow into a strong country like those in the western world. However, she insists on her respect for her faith, and the wish that the Buddha can always bless and protect Laos. All in all, it is not just a reminder – but a beautiful promise connecting the Laotian people and their god.
After two weeks of construction work, we start child-caring. From the equipment and decorations we suppose that the kindergarten we service is not very old. There are approximately 20 Laotian children in the classroom, two to four years old. Our role is to make the children happy. Most of the day we play games with the kids and I love to watch them. One of the kids I took care of was a quiet, thin boy who was very shy when facing strangers, but I noticed that his smile was very sweet and cute. We were writing Laotian characters together. When he wrote well, I encouraged him and gave him a hug. When his handwriting was not so good, I still smiled and revised together with him. Therefore, he could write better and make progress. Gradually, I noticed that the smile on his small face became more frequent. He became braver looking at his classmates and he had the courage to talk to them. Hopefully the boy will be happier in the future. How simple the things were that we did, but it made a difference!
One of the most challenging tasks is bathing the children every afternoon. We four make a small group to help the teachers. One of us pours water on the kids, two of us bathed them using shampoo and soap, and the last one cleaned the foam off by pouring water. After one week's work we have cooperated quite efficiently. My friends who had done volunteer work in Africa told me that basic sanitary conditions in many developing countries were worrying. I am surprised that daily washing is never neglected in this developing country, Laos.
Compared to Hong Kong and advanced cities in mainland China, the kindergarten is very simple. There is no cutting-edge technical equipment or well-educated teachers. Some children will have no chance to receive higher education. But they can be healthy and happy, which is the most important thing in life. We volunteers share our knowledge, skills and love with them, bringing more joy to them. We also understand the difficulty in feeding a child. We needed patience, patience and even more patience. Now I can understand how hard it was for my parents and my kindergarten teachers. Because of their caring, I had an enjoyable childhood. Now I would like to share my love with more kids, just like my parents and my teachers did. I take a surprising photo of a child sleeping peacefully on the ground. After waking up he raises his head. I see his clean, white, innocent face. The warm sunshine makes him look amazingly cute.
To some extent Laos is like a kid who is waking up gradually. The independence of the country is very recent and the foundation is not as strong as in other countries in Southeast Asia. However, Laos is growing up fast. We enjoyed an international airport, convenient transportation, delicious food and a well-organized volunteer programme. Developing countries are a new wonder in the world. Although there is still a great gap compared to advanced countries, nothing can stop them fulfilling their potential. We should give Laos and Southeast Asian countries more chance to prove themselves. After all, whilst travelling there, everyone was moved by their vitality.
(Written by Tianyu. November 2015)