Bringing Out the Best in Laos
By Ann Munson, Associate Country Leader, Laos
“Steam trains, printed books in schools, assembly lines” – what do all these things have in common? A recent English lesson comparing the past, present, and future included these as things that were in common use a hundred or more years ago. But in Laos, many advancements like these were only seen in the last 30 years as this country has focused on development, in terms of electricity, healthcare, transportation and education, raising standards to compete in the global marketplace more effectively.
While teaching our current English unit, Bill noticed his advanced English class of radiologists were struggling with some of the challenges their nation faces as they strive to improve and modernize. He encouraged them, commending the spirit of their people. However, one student replied, “On the outside we are smiling, but not on the inside.” This describes the tension they feel as these motivated and educated students face the reality this nation faces and work to lead their communities into better futures.
How to describe the people of Lao? Smiling. Welcoming. Relaxed. Relational. That is a memory we took away with us when we lived here 11 years ago, and it was a factor in deciding to return a year ago. But time teaches us that there is so much more to understand in a culture that significantly contrasts with ours in the West.
The young people are struggling to advance economically in this nation. That is why the contributions of REI here are important. Our emphasis in the medical sector through medical and English language training are helping to make gains for the health of these people. The English we teach in the hospitals and at the University of Health Sciences allows professionals to benefit from visiting experts and overseas trainings.
After the interruption of COVID, we are encouraging professionals from overseas to come and provide medical training through conferences and in-hospital training. Currently we have a conference scheduled for the fall with a Doctor of Speech Pathology from UW medical hospital. She will introduce the topic of swallowing disorders, diagnosis, and treatment. This is ground-breaking information for the medical community here and department heads from the major hospitals in Vientiane will attend.
Additionally, the directors of our hospitals and the head ER physician have made earnest requests for assistance in the professional development of their nursing staff. This fall, for one month, we have an Emergency Room RN coming on a survey trip to consider working with REI. She will assess the needs and offer training in the ER and ICU units of Children’s Hospital and the larger Mittaphab Hospital. Initially, her question was whether she could be of use here. After meeting with the directors there was a resounding “yes!”
And as for us, we continue to experience deeper relationships with those friends from a decade ago and new friends. Our hope is to encourage through English teaching but also to share joy and hope in the improving circumstances of these people’s lives.