Monks are everywhere in Laos. Up until now, I didn’t really know much about them other than that they were religious and chose a life of simplicity. Every morning around 5AM, they walk down the streets with a wooden or bamboo pail strapped around their shoulder and people will give them sticky rice, fruit or crackers. This will be their food for the day. I woke up one morning in Luang Prabang to participate and it was a beautiful and spiritual experience. I recently found out that it’s not always a choice to become a monk but is more based on life circumstances. Many orphans become monks because they will be well cared for. Children from poor families who can’t take care of them also become monks and at times, some of the youngest boys in large families are forced to become monks so that their family will have a spiritual figure to look up to for guidance. When I was in Muang Ngoi I met an Italian guy who visited the one monastery in town. He went in and saw that there were 4 boys living there with absolutely no super-vision. They would collect their alms in the morning, sleep there during the day and maybe go to school for a few hours a couple days a week. He asked them if they wanted him to give them some english classes and they said yes and he has been here for 10 days volunteering his time. I asked if I could go with him one day and after asking a few people in the village if it was ok for a girl to go, they said it would be fine.
The monastery was located in a beautiful garden. There was a room where they slept, on their straw mats, a room for praying, a kitchen and then a small one-room school house. I walked into the schoolhouse and I was impressed with this Italian. He had brought papers and pencils for them and there were small posters hanging up with numbers, colors and the english alphabet. It broke my heart to see these boys. Absolutely no supervision and just living here almost as if in a prison. Apparently there is a head-monk but Julio, the italian guy, hadn’t seen him since he arrived. The monks were really timid and quiet when I approached and wouldn’t make eye-contact. Julio told them that I was going to watch for the hour session that day and when they found that out, they didn’t even want to enter the class room, they were painfully shy. He finally got them to come in and sit down and they started by counting to 100 and then repeating the vocab words they learned the day before. There were 3 boys, one was 10, another 14 and another one 16. In addition to English, Julio was also teaching them math but it was the equivalent to 2nd grade math. The day I was there, they were learning about the weather. Julio would teach them some words and they would all repeat after them in a heavy italian accent. I giggled and Julio said, “actually you should be teaching this class not me, everyone lets repeat after Amanda”. So I would say the words and they mimicked me perfectly in my midwest accent.
It’s really ashame that these boys don’t have the opportunity to go to school. Yes they can go if they want to but with no supervision they just stay at the monestary. In fact, since I arrived in Muang Ngoi and the other small villages, I see children playing all day long. Yes there is a school here but I wonder if it’s enforced? Many people have tried to to become volunteer teachers in Laos but since it’s a communist country they don’t like foreigners to volunteer. Lets hope that something will be done in the future to ensure that these kids will be able to at least learn the basics .