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of books and spare parts

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

Auckland, New Zealand

The wealth of Europe was a stark contrast to the poverty we experienced in Asia. But it did not challenge us – we were removed from it, living relatively simply with just our seven backpacks.
The wealth of New Zealand, however, confronts us. It is personal. It is ours.
Most specifically – for today anyway – I’ve been unpacking our books. It’s no secret, we have a lot of books.


We believe a good education can be gleaned through books and we have made every effort to ensure our children (and wider community) have access to good books. I do not regret this in the slightest, but as I opened box after box after box after box after box all full of books, I could not help but think of the children we met in Laos – the one who were receiving their first ever books, the ones who would have a library of fifty books to choose from and then there would be no more for them to read. Fifty. Fifty books for your whole childhood. Fifty more than when Big Brother Mouse began publishing, but it’s still a pitiful number, is it not?
When we visited BBM, we were impressed. Very impressed. And I don’t just say that – we also visited an orphanage in Cambodia where we were NOT impressed. That one was a money-swindling operation with very little credibility. Big Brother Mouse was different. Do you remember us going to the book party we sponsored and then writing about it on the blog? That’s THE ONE post that people keep talking to us about even now.
And we keep thinking about it too.
We want to sponsor another book.
Having no personal income makes this difficult for the children, so we are thinking creatively. As we have unpacked the book boxes, we have not automatically returned them to their homes on wooden shelves, but have set aside a fair number to sell. We’ve just got to work out the best way to do this. TradeMe? A book fair?
We could do another sponsored walk too: the Coast to Coast walk we did last time would not be such a challenge now, so we may need to set our sights on something more demanding. Any ideas?
Another silent auction perhaps. The only problem is we no longer have a houseful of gear we do not need. We’ve given it away! Maybe we could approach businesses to donate decent prizes instead of on-selling just our junk.
We could ask all our readers to donate a dollar each, and according to our stat counter, we’d be well on the way to sponsoring a book. Any takers?

Then there are the other things needed at BBM. Of course their biggest need is for money so that they can get on with their work of making books and getting them into the hands of the Lao population. But they can also use educational games, used laptops and digital cameras, and old computer parts, as well as the odd book that they don’t publish themselves (they do not, however, want all the throwaway books that no-one else in the west wants either!)
One thing we noticed during our month in Laos is that there were precious few toys. Kids kicked around rattan balls, and the little girl in whose house we stayed had a Barbie doll, but that was all we saw. Knowing what enjoyment our own children have had with a wooden train set, I wondered if such a toy would be appropriate in Laos. I thought maybe not, because quite simply there are no trains in Laos. But look! Here on the Big Brother Mouse website is a picture of kids playing with a new toy – a wooden train set!
As for games, I suspect there are plenty of kiwi households with an old magnetic Chinese Checkers board or wooden quoits set or construction equipment sitting in the back cupboard. There might even be microscopes or inflatable globes no longer in use. I’m sure there are Monopoly games with Park Lane missing, or 1000 piece puzzles of which only 998 pieces remain. Lao learners don’t need these offerings! Neither could they use games requiring a good command of English. But surely there are *universal* games sitting in dusty corners that could enhance the life experiences of children, who ordinarily have access to next-to-nothing. Is there anything at your house? If you live in New Zealand, we’re happy to collect goods, and somehow get them to Sasha in Laos. We’re willing to personally deliver them if need be <wink>

the resources table at the school we visited


party party…

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

by Rach
Luang Prabang, Laos

Yesterday was December first, which for us would usually mean putting up the Christmas tree. It is a much-anticipated tradition, and one the children were feeling a bit disappointed about missing…..until…..they saw, late in the morning, the smiles broadly stretched across the faces of children in a village receiving their first ever colourful picture books. There are no words to describe the sitting-on-the-edge-of-their-seats anticipation, their eagerness, their enthusiasm, their gratefulness at being given, not only a fun morning, a “party”, but also a book to take home to read, and then bring back to school to swap with a friend.  I had known this is exactly what was going to happen, so how do you explain the lump I got in my throat as I watched?

We had driven about 40km north of Luang Prabang along a not-entirely-potholed main road, and then turned off onto a dirt track. Between bamboo huts and vegetable gardens we rattled, stopping to ask directions to the village’s four school rooms, which turned out to be situated at the top of a fairly steep hill. Voices chanting in unison wafted from the open-shuttered glass-less windows. Quickly bodies followed the voices out to the dirt patch in front of the flag pole and assembled themselves in straight lines. Listening attentively, answering questions enthusiastically with one voice, pointing to their own eyes, noses and mouths, these children soaked up the simple instructions of how to draw a face, then dispersed to their multi-aged classrooms where they were gifted a piece of paper and a pencil. Our children were welcomed into spare seats and joined in the drawing. Just like in any classroom, some children were quicker than others, most followed the instructions and one sweet boy spent his allotted time perfecting a three-dimensional tin can.


I noticed my seven children who drew, all added their name to their paper – none of the Lao pages had any writing on them at all. Not sure what that says, but it did strike me as interesting.
The rooms emptied again and everyone gathered in the open area – and not just the school-aged children. Grandmas and mothers with babies and toddlers congregated around the children, even some men came up from a field to see what was going on.
And what was going on?
There was much laughter, mirth, hilarity…balloon-popping, mask wearing, jumping, dancing, face powdering (I didn’t get the significance of that one!), clapping in time to a drum beat, singing….in short, it was a party. And there was even party food – one orange and a cup of juice for each person.


In single file, the children refilled their classrooms and took their seats. Non-school-attendees draped themselves over windowsills and darkened the doorways, such was the interest. Stories were told and read, a couple of songs about how to care for books were taught, it even looked like a writing lesson was given (but I really couldn’t be sure about that one, having only understood numbers and the word for eat)……then the new books were spread out on a table.


As the Big Brother helpers gave a summary of each book, children surged forward, unable to contain their eagerness. Each time one edged closer to the books, they were gently instructed to return to their seats. The moment arrived; each child was given a pencil and three sheets of blank paper, and then in quiet orderliness they came forward to choose the prize gift – a new, colourful Lao story book. These children immediately started to read through their books, some not moving away from the table, others finding a bench to sit on or a shady spot under a tree. They fingered the pages, chuckled at the pictures, compared the different stories.


There is something simplistically humbling to see a child take such delight in things that we westerners take for granted…to see the joy radiate on these faces was priceless. I can only pray for the seeds that may have been sown in the hearts of our own children as they were part of this experience. May they always retain the ability to step back from their ‘normal’ world and look for ways of serving others. We asked them if it was worth coming and being part of the book party. Without a moment’s hesitation, a resounding YES left their lips; they thought it was even better than putting up the Christmas tree. We asked them if they would want to sponsor another book – ideas flowed over dinner about ways they/we could do this. 
One idea was to encourage others to get behind Big Brother Mouse. Sometimes when you see something on the internet you have no idea if it’s a shonky outfit or something worth dedicating time and money to. BBM is definitely the latter. If you are travelling, drop by Luang Prabang, buy some books and give them to your tuktuk driver and guesthouse owner – or just give a donation! You can help out with English practice in the morning or take an evening tour of the “business”, or for a small fee, you can even join the workers for lunch. It won’t take long to see these guys are for real. If you’re not in the neighbourhood, you could pour yourself a cup of coffee and spend an evening looking through their website. It would be time well spent – and who knows, you might even find a book you want to sponsor!
As for us, we are so pleased one of Rob’s colleagues sent him the link to BBM, which totally changed our itinerary (we had no intention of ever coming to Laos!) Now the children are dreaming of new coast-to-coast walks and bigger silent auctions than our last one……and in the meantime, they’ll go back to the office to help out with a wee dictionary project. This Christmas season, we will not have a tree or tinsel or fruit mince pies, but we will have time to consider every day how to show a little love in the world.

Just As We Expected

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008
By Rachael Luang Prabang, Laos We rounded a corner and a scene that could have come from any of the South East Asia novels we had read was spread before us. A fast-flowing murky brown river curved through the foreground. A ... [Continue reading this entry]


Monday, June 2nd, 2008
"SSSHHHH," he whispered somewhat unnecessarilly as I was only just emerging from slumberland and had little intention of making my wakeful state yet known! "Is it raining?" he continued. We sssssshhhh-ed, ears alert to the drops falling outside. Were they falling from ... [Continue reading this entry]

thirty seconds……ten…..five, four……

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008
...three, two, one fingers showing. And then the camera was rolling. We'd already been in the TVNZ studio for an hour, wandered around the bowels of the building, had make-up done in front of very bright lights and enormous mirrors, leaving the ... [Continue reading this entry]


Tuesday, May 20th, 2008
An article in the local rag.........then Rob's real employer (not the one touted in the newspaper article ;-) ) is sending an email round work encouraging colleagues to get behind "their man"........simultaneously at my workplace (that would be home!) the phone ... [Continue reading this entry]

from Auckland to Kampot takes a very long post

Thursday, May 8th, 2008
We're in full swing getting ready for the Silent Auction. Local church hall is booked. Junk Items For Sale are gathered (read: piled up in the bedroom). Handmade cards are nearing completion. Local newspaper interview has been given. Fizzing Sherbet production ... [Continue reading this entry]

of flowers and funds

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008
Upon hearing about our upcoming silent auction, a lady who had purchased homemade flower presses from our Entrepreneur Son a couple of years ago, asked if there would be any more at the auction. ... [Continue reading this entry]


Tuesday, March 11th, 2008
Do you see our little tickers up there? They will track our progress at raising funds to support the work being done in Laos by the guys at Big Brother Mouse. Our first goal is to be able to [Continue reading this entry]

rhymes with ack

Friday, January 25th, 2008
Christmas presents Backpacks. Our old green Macpac wedding present ones that will be eighteen years old this year. New blue Macpac ones for the kids who are big enough to carry them. And some other non-sponsor, but smaller than sponsored-by-Macpac ... [Continue reading this entry]