Lao Journal: Part Two

Visit to Tana Highschool – 25 June 2013

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Bamboo student huts, Tana Highschool

Tana Highschool is the second of two highschools in the Pak Xeng region. The school opened in 1993 with three classrooms. Since then, four more have been built and there are currently 27 teachers working at the school. This year there were 622 students, 261 of which were female (41%). Because there are not enough classrooms, the students are split into two study periods – one the studies in the morning, and the second that studies in the afternoon. Those who don’t fit into the bigger and better-equipped Sop Jak Highschool, come to Tana. At Tana, 175 students have built their own student accomodation on the hills – basic bamboo huts that are crammed and often at risk of burning down. Each week, 16-20kg of supplies have to be brought from home by students in order to have enough food and supplies to last the week with the average age of these students are 11-18 years. The benefits of Tana Highschool include that it has road access, is fairly central, and can do much more than other highschools in different regions. Their main need is one repeated by many schools – the need for more classrooms and teachers, as well as toilets and a better water supply.

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Abandoned student housing on the Tana Highschool property

At this school, the principal claimed that after highschool, 60% continue to stay in their home village, helping their family. It depends on the family situation greatly as to what their future prospects are. Those who continue their education past highschool have the choice of college or university. A college course takes three years (such as attending a teachers college), whilst a university degree takes on average five years. According to the Director of Education, Tong Pan, eight people finished university and 80 finished college from this region, however I am unsure as to whether this is the total number or just the number in the last year.

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Student-built student huts

Village Meeting, Pak Xeng District, Unknown Village – 25 June 2013

We passed this particular village on our way back from Tana Highschool to our homestay village, Na Pho. The village had recently been located to this “on road” location with the support of the government – it used to be located “off road”, over large mountains. It was interesting to compare this notion of being “on road” – in western countries the equivalent to being “on road” would be to be “online”, where you have greater communication opportunities and access to trade. Being “on road” is the next best thing here!

In this village there are 111 families, approximately 700 people in total, with 320 women. I loved how when visiting villages or highschools or anyone we were always told how many women they had, like this. According to the tour manager Graham, this was because developmental organisations like the UN and the Asian Development Bank require them to consider gender equality and the empowerment of women in their village activities. The main job in this village is as farmers and they follow an animist spirituality. Many of the farmers have retained their farmland, 4-5 hours away across mountains and rivers – imagine traveling that every day, often by foot! However the villagers stated they were very, very happy to be living where they were, and a kind of unity and good-feeling was evident among the villagers.

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Village meeting – the woman in the back was the head of the Women’s Union

They were also very keen to hear about our lives. It was this reciprocation that I loved most, and they were evidently very interested to hear about us too. When they heard that we sometimes woke up between 9-11am, you should have seen them laugh! The looks of disbelief were great and I could tell we all felt a little guilty telling them this, particularly when most of them woke up at 3-5am each morning! In the end, our tour manager Graham summed it up nicely, for both them and us:

We, like them, work hard.

We, like them, work to improve our lives.

We, like them, care and love for our family.

We, like them, want to meet someone we love.

We, like them, want to start families.

And we, like them, want to be happy and want the best for our families.

I think all this resonated, as we all shared a moment of quietness and reflection. Are we really that different? Probably not. Our differences can be great sometimes, but in the end, we’re fallible and fantastical and we’re all the same.

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Talking to children about their favourite activities and their daily schedule

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