Darkness had descended on the dusty tracks somewhere between Pak Lai and Hin Heup and I was lost. Then by chance, a human GPS named Xay came along. He tried explaining to me how I should find my way back but then invited me to spend the night at a Hmong village where he was coordinating a project with local schools.
In the village we chatted late into the night and Xay explained the project’s goals of adapting education to the daily lives of the children. Curiosity got the better of me and the next morning I decided to stay a few extra days to learn more about this novel approach, in Laos at least, to making education more relevant to everyday existence.
The School Gardening Project is a community participatory scheme in two villages, Phongam and Nagnao, that aims to connect learning with the daily life of children. In short, education that is both practical and relevant. Attended mainly by Hmong children, the students learn to farm organically, build chicken coops and understand the economics of managing the money that they generate from these activities.
Such education develops knowledge and appreciation of the environment, managerial skills and not least, a sense of responsibility. It’s a model of education that could be replicated all over Laos, irrespective of a student’s social or cultural background.
“The first goal is to adapt some lessons from the textbook in order to support school projects,” said Thong Fongmanichan, the head of the village school. “Since the implementation of the project we see great progress in the academic results of the students, greater motivation and a sharp decline in absenteeism,” he added.
Kila, a ten-year-old boy, told me, “This project has helped me understand mathematics better and also to build team spirit within the class.”
Phoungern, a girl of the same age said, “I like the garden activity because I can share my knowledge with my parents, especially about organic fertilizers.”
In addition to learning Lao and mathematics for calculating sizes of garden plots or measuring material for building coops, students also learn planting, organic fertilizing, irrigation, etc. They develop environmental awareness and learn the economics of managing money because they sell their vegetables, herbs and chickens to the local markets. This in turn, generates an income that allows the project to expand, as well as to fund other school activities.
Another goal of the project is to give autonomy to the community in exploiting natural resources sustainably.
“The aim is to empower children and not to continually assist them,” says Phetchanpheng Pouvanxay, the project coordinator from Good Neighbors, the NGO that has initiated the project.
Let’s wish the project's success and we look forward to the day when we can buy this village’s produce at the organic market in Vientiane.
- By Fabien Vuillerey -
Factfile:Schools in Ban Phongam and Ban Nagnao
Number of children: 800
Number of chickens raised: 60/70
Profits from sale of vegetables: LAK 1,000,000 (Since October 2014)
Support, Come and Join Us!
To support the project, contact Good Neighbors Laos: www.goodneighbors.org
Oh! Magazine would like to invite all readers to donate books/sport equipment/education materials. Our next visit will be by the end of the year.