Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ex-Volunteer reminisces about his time with GVI at Wat Na Xang

Byron Bay artist Doug King has now returned from twelve weeks in S E Asia, including
eight weeks in Luang Prabang, Laos, as a volunteer English teacher with GlobalVision International (GVI).

Doug, under the guidance of GVI, was able to fulfil a dream, working from the early days to set up an English school in the Buddhist temple, Wat Naxang, Sarayama.  When we started in this temple, there were eight novice monks and eight village children keen to learn but no desks or chairs so school work was done seated on the floor with some of the younger students (six years old) wrestling or falling asleep.

Two weeks into my stay, Novice Wonsai was admitted to hospital for 2 weeks with dengue fever.
This was a difficult time as he was our Lao interpreter: classes were kept very simple – ABC, colours, shapes and songs (‘hokey pokey’ was a stand out).  By the time Novice Wonsai returned, the class had grown to twenty four, with ages ranging from six years to twenty.

I met with the program manager of GVI Laos, Tricia Feeney and suggested we split the class in two, Elementary and Beginners; some of the students were advancing at a great rate.  Tricia and Novice Wonsai arranged a program with two classes.  By this time, Novice Wonsai had acquired some desks and chairs (in very bad repair) but this took the standard of education to another level.

Things were going well until Novice Wonsai’s Chinese language lessons clashed with our English classes: a very tough week without an interpreter.  After discussing the difficulties of not having an interpreter with Novice Wonsai, he readily agreed to rearrange his studies (thirteen subjects), to work in with our English classes.

Doug with teacher Novice Wonxai and students in Elementary class
After eight weeks, the school had grown from a single class of fourteen/ sixteen students to two classes and a total of forty eight students.  Doug got a local carpenter to make up a cabinet and shelving and an instant library with twenty books appeared: our students, particularly the younger ones, were so excited!

This eight week teaching program was probably the most rewarding experience I have ever had.
I was lucky enough to be totally accepted by the temple and on two occasions prepared meals for the Novices and Monks: Cooking Skills courtesy of Liberation Larder Byron Bay – thanks to Honu Dawson and all the helpers who have been my teachers.

During a Friday night revision class of the week’s lessons, I noticed a new Novice and every time I put a question to the novices, he would disappear behind a post or a person.  I thought, “This is a challenge – I’ll get him up to the white board before the end of the class.”  So I did, giving him not one, but three questions to answer.  As he very slowly walked to the front of the class, there was tremendous laughter and cheering from the other students: it took him ten to fifteen minutes to answer with much prompting and laughter from the class.

Afterwards Novice Wonsai walked over to me with the biggest smile: “Doug do you know this Monk?”  ”No” I replied.  ”He is the Abbott of the Temple!”  A most senior and respected man, the Abbott just looked at me and smiled.

My colleague and friend, Novice Wonsai, who started the school and then approached Tricia and
GVI for support, is the most amazing , humble and compassionate person I have met.  I thought this lovely man was in his twenties and it wasn’t until my last week that Tricia told me this remarkable person was nineteen!  At the time, tears filled my eyes and even now, several weeks later, when I think back my eyes still fill: Novice Wonsai – what an amazing human being!

By the way, the Abbott is only early twenties!

Congratulations, GVI, for a wonderful program that I will continue to support.

Footnotes:           * Novice Wonsai’s 2 weeks hospital expenses were met by GVI. 
                          * Wat Na Xang now has 3 classes – Young Children doing play-based learning, a beginner children’s class and the Novices and older elementary learners.  GVI teach in the community hall and temple 5 times a week with the support of the community of Ban Na Xang.
                          * GVI has now sponsored the purchase of brand new tables and chairs!

Doug King – Byron Bay