DISCOVERY DAY: Big Brother Mouse goes to the orphanage school in Luang Prabang

We arrive in a large truck. Yai and I are in the cab with the driver: standing in the back, hanging onto the pipe frame, are 6 young Lao women in pa siin, looking fresh faced and country healthy. They stand amidst boxes and bins -- the educational displays and games we are bringing to create Discovery Day, a first time initiative of Big Brother Mouse, an innovative book publishing social enterprise in Laos.

The young men follow on their small motorcycles, some alone, some 2 up, few with helmets.

20 minutes later we turn off the main road into an area green with bamboo and trees. We soon cross a stream and enter the gates of  the Luang Prabang Residential School for Orphans in northern Laos.

While the name chills my heart, the space is sunny and bright. Long low, white buildings frame large playing fields and grassy patios with benches and shrubs. Behind the buildings on our left, beautiful plantings of vegetables slope down to the creek.

No one comes out to greet us.

Sasha directs Big Brother Mouse staff (aka "the Mice") to bring all the supplies into an empty classroom. Tables are brought outside. Desks and benches are arranged. Boxes are unpacked.

It shapes up slowly yet by the time the children come to see what is happening, the Mice have created a dozen or more "discovery stations" through which the children move like water in a creek. Here and there BBM staff provide explanations but it seems that little are required.

In less than an hour, the milling and noise level have dropped to a slow buzz. Most of the children have settled into an activity:
  • an explanation of human organs illustrated by a plastic model that can be dis- and re-assembled
  • a series of electric connections that snap together to light a bulb
  • carefully rendered cardboard models of the pyramids -- both Egyptian and Mayan -- along with the Great Wall of China and the Roman Coliseum, accompanied by a globe with which to locate them
  • a table full of visual experiences: a classic kaleidoscope, a 3D Viewmaster, as well as those special glasses to view a 3D elephant poster, and a handful of other optical illusions

There's always an audience for the explanations and magnifying glasses that accompany the mineral and fossils collections.

Inside the 2 transformed classrooms there are 10 kids seated around most of the "play stations." Log cabins are being constructed at one, while colorful plastic tinker toys inspire loftier constructions. And while the plastic lace snap-togethers are new to me they are every bit as compelling for the youngsters constructing whimsical rotundas.

There are puzzle books and colored pencils, modeling clay and  number games.

And everywhere there is a hum of curiosity and absorption.

No voices have been raised; nothing has crashed to the floor; nobody has run about excitedly; no squirmishes have ensued.

I can't imagine 200 Canadian children in behaving like this.

I welcome news from inspired teachers telling me I am just inexperienced.

Text: Alleson Kase
Photos: Darunee Suppawan ("Yai")

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