The Story of Sengsong
As told by Xuyen Dangers, Global Ministries Staff working in Laos
The first contact with Sengsong was in the summer of 2003 while visiting Luang Prabang (LPB) an orphanage school, a school Church World Service has supported for some years. There were about 35 students from eight to 12 or 13 years from the total of 200 students in the school, who remained behind during that summer break. Others had gone home to visit their relatives. An informal workshop on writing and drawing was held with these children for about two hours with the presence of the Principal of the school coming in and out.
The feedback right after that workshop from the principal was he did not realize how easy it was to create such an activity in such a short time – an activity that could draw the interest and could hold the attention of the students that long. He was given more information about the after school activity program of Donkoi Children Development Center (DCDC) in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, where the program had been since 1998. The principal showed more interest and wished to see DCDC. He was immediately extended an invitation to see DCDC, but the invitation included him bringing a few students that could learn quickly so that they also could teach others when they return.
A month later the principal came and brought with him his vice principal and two students. One was a Mong ethnic boy named Sengsong, 13 years old, who had attended the workshop; and a 14 year old Khmu ethnic girl named Chantha, for a study visit to DCDC. The two teachers seemed very interested in all the activities that DCDC children were doing; i.e., rock animal painting, clay sculpture, news-writing, storytelling, drawing, dance, music, etc. The vice principal took pictures of everything. While the two men were touring the whole school, the two children were asked to join any activity they wanted to. Sengsong stayed in the clay molding group while Chantha was interviewed by a young writer of DCDC. After the visit, the Donkoi’s young writers handed over a story they wrote about Chantha to the two teachers for them to take home. The two teachers were amazed. They left after two hours and allowed the two students to stay for two months to do internship at DCDC.
I think that summer changed Sengsong’s life.
When we came to visit the school six months later, we saw many new things happening in the LPB orphanage school. We learned that when Chantha and Sengsong returned to LPB orphanage school, they formed the Art Club and the Writers Club. For the Writers Club, they wrote news about the school, about their vegetable garden, about visitors, about holidays, sport and special events happening in the school. The principal encouraged them by allowing their stories and drawings to be posted on the bulletin board in front of the school office. When we visited, the two students proudly showed us and read their stories to us. They interviewed us and wrote more stories. We did more small workshops to show them how to make poster news and homemade books. For Art Club, we saw a room full of children’s products for sale — drawing greetings cards, small and big water color paintings, rock animals, and all sorts of clay creations. In front of the art room there was a garden with the sign ‘Dream Garden’ with bonsai trimmed as tables and chairs that have been there, but are now more colorful plants and flowers. At the four corners of the garden there were big rocks painted to look like huge fish and turtles.
Another time we came to do a three-day workshop with both teachers and students. The workshop
was on outdoor drawing, theatre, clown, dance, storytelling, puppet, games, and more. The school became much livelier. The art side of the school improved and added to its already well known academic excellence with a ‘number one’ vegetable garden model of the whole province that has been in existence since the beginning of the school in 1987.
After that summer, Sengsong and Chantha were invited to DCDC three more summers to learn more. Chantha learned leadership skills, made more little books, taught writing to the younger children, including the Khmu languages and dances, while Sengsong taught Mong language and basket weaving.
Sengsong did not speak any English the first two years. In 2006, he spoke a little and in the summer of 2008 he spoke a lot. He is good at every craft he learned at Donkoi DCDC, including rock painting, grass pictures, batik painting, and paper mache, but he loves water color drawing and painting best. Also, he can create huge mural paintings.
In 2007, he painted the DCDC’s carpenter house and the stage backdrop of DCDC hall which got a lot of good comments from DCDC’s visitors. This summer, 2008, Sengsong did many mural paintings like the Secret garden story boards, a dream toilet at DCDC, a dream kitchen at the Tammakhung center, the dream forest of Donkoi school, and a huge banner for the 10th Anniversary celebration for DCDC that was hung above the front of the outdoor stage of DCDC hall that says, ‘I have potential, give me a chance.” At the fair day, Sengsong impressed everyone he met with his tables full of children’s products including cross-stitch cards he brought from the girl students of LPB school plus his own artistic creations. He speaks English fluently with poise, politely, and always with big smile.
He also can use email, has a mobile phone, and has traveled all by himself from Luang Prabang to Vientiane both last summer and this summer.
Sengsong received a few awards for his drawings of the past few years and is well known as a young artist of the school and in LPB. He was also a co-illustrator of a book, “Fruit of Laos,” published by Big Brother Mouse. The other co-illustrator is Konglee, Sengsong’s student. The school is proud of his work. He maintains a steady grade A average each year.
Sengsong came from a very poor family in a rural area in LPB. His brother married when he was only 13 years old. While in Vientiane, Sengsong collected used clothes to bring home to his brothers, his nieces and nephews. Both of Sengsong’s parents died at a young age. His father died of opium abuse and his mother died due to lack of health care. He did not begin school until he was 12 years old.
Sengsong has a lot of potential and he was given a chance to develop his potential. His dream is to learn as much as he can and get a job and help others as he said,” I was given a chance.” Sengsong is a hard working person, very responsible for what he was doing, and became an independent and resourceful person. He has perseverance and is an honest young man.