An Inspiring Story of Donkoi Children Development Center - Sili Manotham Hansana

Laos/Vietnam

I first spotted Sili at our first child center in Mr. Khamvanh's, a good villager's home.  At that time he was nine years old and in grade four in the Donkoi primary school.  He loved dancing and would dance whenever he could find an opportunity to do so, and children around would try to follow him. Sili soon became a dance teacher for anyone whether younger and older to him.

Sili soon joined after school activity programs held at Donkoi primary school, where I have been working since 1998 at Sisatanak district, Vientiane Municipality, Lao PDR.

Sili was very confident of his caliber as a young dancer and he applied in an entrance exam for the Lao National Dance and Music school. As expected, he came out successful. He left this school after seven years study majoring in Lao classical dance.

By now, Sili was known as a talented dance student. He was, therefore, included in the children's dance troop of Lao PDR. That gave him a good opportunity to give dance performances in provinces of the country. His dance troop also went to Japan on a study cum dance performance tour. This visit further enriched his knowledge and skills. The performances of the dance troop were recorded on VCD and several dance photographs are part of a dance picture book in Laos.

Sili's best time was at Donkoi Children Development Center (DCDC).  Sili said "I had an opportunity and facility to perform at DCDC every day after my return from my school."  Sili used to bike straight from his dance school to DCDC to 'play' with little children and perform on the dance and drama stage of the DCDC. He would choreograph with any students around him and start teaching and directing whatever he just learned from his own school.  I spotted Sili's interest and his wonderful potential as an artist! He can direct any play like Ramayana (Ramakien) and the like. Similarly, Sili was very clever in creating new and interesting activities for the students of DCDC like the children's circus, mask plays, and storytelling. I was so impressed by Sili's genius mind and leadership talent that whatever material; whether paints, costumes, masks or anything else required by him, was made available to him.

Sili was very good at directing so I took him to Patravadi theatre in Bangkok, Thailand. Sili wanted to see the well known Director Dancer/Actor of Thailand Patravadi directing dances so as to learn from her. Patravadi said "Sili you do not really need to go to a directing school for it. You just go on doing what you have been doing in directing and you will get better and better."  This advice of Patravadi instilled more confidence in Sili. But, of course, she accepted him to her school in a workshop for two weeks which included acting, yoga, meditation, etc.

I invited Mr. Lakan, a great acting trainer from PETA (The Philippine Education Theatre Association) to teach at my house to improve the  Ramayana play by our children. My big dream of taking Sili to The Philippines was realized this May 2006.  We were at the new PETA School for one week .Even if we were not officially enrolled; we were allowed to observe, to watch as much as we wanted to. Sili    learned by watching a great director directing, he learned acting techniques, and observed many rehearsals and performances of the students of all ages. He took notes; he saw costumes at the theatre and examined them inside out. At the end, we also attended a workshop on mask making and performing with masks. Sili got an opportunity to introduce Lao classical dance steps to a group of 20 eager participant teachers of the theatre.

With all of these exposures in theatre and his other interests, I thought he would like to go to theater or acting to fulfill his dream. But on the way back from the Philippines, sitting next to me on the plane, I asked Sili what he would like to be if he got a chance to go further for his studies and career. Sili answered with no hesitation, "I want to be a social worker!"  Voila!

He then was encouraged to apply to do take the entrance exam for the Bachelor Degree in Sociology and Social Development (BSSD) introduced recently for the first time in Laos at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the National University of Laos (NUOL), where I am the Advisor in Social work.

He took the exam for a special course of BSSD so he could go to school in the evening after finishing his full-time job at the DCDC.  His name was not in the first list of the successful students for admission, his score being low. Then one month later the 2nd list came out, and again his name was not there. I then wrote a supporting letter to the University, about Sili's interest and multi-faceted talents. Then we waited another month. Finally in the second week of November his name was there in the 3rd list of students accepting him to the BSSD special course!

In the meantime for two months while he was waiting for the result for admission, Sili was selected to go to Vietnam on Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)'s program of 'Volunteer for Peace' and then again a second time to Vietnam to attend the 9th World Social Work Day where he met many professional social workers and social work students from various universities of Vietnam that are offering Social work degree. He also had a chance to be introduced to my mentor Mme. Nguyen This Oanh! A well known advocate / educator / writer /editor of many social work books of Vietnam. 

Sili's visits to Vietnam provided him opportunities to also introduce Lao culture to Vietnamese people by him giving lessons of Lao dance, drum playing, games, etc. In Vietnam he made friendships with many people of his taste and he learned the Vietnamese songs and culture.

Sili returned to Laos on November 15th and he began his first year of BSSD on the November 20, 2006.  Sili was now resourceful and adapted himself well to any situation. So much so, that sometimes when the teacher does not show up, he will take over the class and start teaching English, which he knows much better than his fellow students. Sometimes, he will try to explain the art of interviewing to the students and sometimes something else. The students are amazed at his all-around caliber, which Sili thankfully attributes it to his development in DCDC for several years. Only after one week of his studies at the university, Sili has been unanimously elected as the leader of his class.

Sili speaks English fluently. He studied seven years in his dance school but could not gain any confidence in communicating in English. He began to speak in English when there were wonderful foreigner volunteers at DCDC (Shanon and Paul) who were his mentors... They inspired him so much that now when I speak to him in Lao and he answers in English! He can also write well in English. He is now teaching English for young leaders/ actors and that also in turn is enriching his English.

His most successful acting piece is the Ramayana, an Asian epic started in India over 2,000 years ago;  a sort of Romeo and Juliet of the West. What is special about it is that this is the child Ramakien (in Laos, It is called Ramakien for Ramayana) all music is live, and it is also played by children. The costumes are simple and home-made and any person could act the play easily. This staging of Ramayana by the children at the DCDC is enjoyed by visitors from Laos and other countries, children and adults alike.

The latest of Donkoi DCDC Little Theatre is the Anti- Human Trafficking Drama by twenty young artists of twelve to fourteen years old of Donkoi. Sili is responsible for this wonderful play. Sili gave a musical concert at my house the other day and everyone was spell bound by the performance and moved many to tears.

Another time when fifteen Vientiane International School (VIS) teachers visited Donkoi in August 2006 it was also a success! The play made them cry as well. They kept on telling him how good the show was. The principal of VIS was extremely impressed by Sili's talent. He whispered to me that he wanted to support Sili to pursue the BSSD! And many more offers might follow from VIS for the support of various activities of the DCDC! 

In the 'Open House' for parents at the end of the summer, parents loved the Ramayana, the three little pigs, the anti -trafficking, the Thai Dam dream village, and the puppet.

And more...

We then took the Anti -Trafficking show to The NUOL on the UN and International NGO meeting held on September 13, 2006. Again, the show was a hit. It made the Vice president and a few more participants cry.

The last show was on November 19 at the Women International Group's 16th Annual Bazaar on a big stage!  It was praised as it sent a 'powerful' message.  

Sili also directed the 'elephants and the monkey group to parade around the Fair to help make it festive. It was just with a drum and rugged costumes. Buyers and sellers or on lookers were all amused!

Sili usually just uses a drum when he directs but he also can play Lanat (Lao Xylophone). Many times he directs and at the same time plays Lanat. Sili now also teaches Keyboard harmonica, a Japanese musical instrument to his 8 members of the young leader group at the DCDC. He learned this under the supervision of Mme Hisae.

Sili is also nurturing a Lao classical musical band of fifteen young Donkoi musician students who are following his footsteps to study at The National Dance and Music school. They practice at his home once a week under the tree.

The DCDC has produced a video "Learning to Lao classical dance with Sili". Global Ministries' staff in Ohio liked the VCD very much.

Sili teaches basic Yoga and Meditation to children. He teaches Basic music, basic acting techniques, drawing, costumes, mask making (he made beautiful masks and draws a beautiful map).

At 3:00 p.m. every day if you come to Donkoi School, you will see Sili acting like the Principal of the school. He speaks, children listen. He directs and dancers / actors follow! 

He has charisma and is liked by every one around him .He is humble and polite and easy to get along with.

Sili is determined to finish his Bachelor in BSSD majoring in Social work and work with People in need using art, theatre, music, meditation, yoga and all sorts of creative tools in social work

I am sure Sili is going to attain more heights.  Given a chance his potential will grow to the fullest and he will turn around to give chance to many disadvantaged people around him.

So supporting Sili is supporting Laos! And he will inspire many more young Laotians.  Lao needs a lot of young role models like Sili who is now only 22 years old. Ban Donkoi (Donkoi Village) and Donkoi Children Development Center are proud of their product and so are we!

Xuyen Dangers

Xuyen Dangers is a social worker serving in Laos/Vietnam.  She serves as a Social work supervisor of Donkoi child center and 5 other centers, Social work advisor, Faculty of Social Sciences, and the National University of Laos.

More about this project: After School Programs