School for the Deaf , Luang Prabang.
Sisters of Charity of Saint Joan Antida Thouret
Schools visits and taking the Sisters out for Lunch.
October 26th and November 3rd, 2013
(Note: If you are considering any volunteer work overseas please stay safe, read our blog disclaimer and consider your personal decisions carefully. Also consider that volunteering with a family in tow, involves far more considerations, compromises and sacrifices, than that of a solo traveller. Also note that my title is well considered. The official name for the school is “The School for Disabled Children”. At present there are only deaf children at both the schools. In my title I am trying to acknowledge my research of the wishes of the Deaf community who do not wish to have terms such as disabled or other attributed to them e.g. “We’d like to note that the International Federation of the Hard of Hearing, the World Federation of the Deaf, NAD…have all agreed that the term “hearing-impaired” [or other labels] is no longer acceptable, and that “deaf/hard-of-hearing” should be used in all future references”. Also note I have deliberately not referred to locations for child safety).
I met Sister Vong when she brought the School of the Deaf children to an excursion at Ock Pop Tock. I instantly warmed to her pleasant, peaceful, cheerful and loving nature. Also the children were such a credit to her work – such well mannered, bright and happy souls. After a friendly chat to her and her two overseas volunteer teachers, I was keen to take the family on a visit.
So it was, that on a fine Saturday, we caught a tuk tuk down there. Sister Vong welcomed us with open arms even though she was busy, having just slaughtered a pig. Now they have five pigs there. We said hello to the older children who were happily processing the carcass and then out front to visit the younger children busily working in the vegetable garden. The children were keen for us to take photo’s and crowded around with big smiles. Sister told us of the cows (only for eating), pigs and chickens they had there plus a range of fruit trees.
Sister then drove us to meet the other four sisters. They have a residence and now a brand new secondary school a short drive away. Again we had the grand tour and was pleased to be shown that much of their funding was from Australia including laptops from Rotary Club of Western Australia! They have a fish breeding pond there and every piece of available land is used to produce crops. We were impressed with their ambitious plans and to see how much they were doing with the small resources they had.
The School for the Deaf in Luang Prabang runs a primary and secondary school. The later being built this year. Both schools, teach there students both the standard School Curriculum and a life skills program. It aims to ensure that the students are both educated and trained in practical skills by the end of their period with the School. Attendance at the school is free and the children live and eat at the school due to many of their villages being far away. They are encouraged to return home for a long period each year. Currently there are 40 students aged between 8 years and 25 years old. (Originally the sisters went out to the villages to find the children but now they are so well known that parents bring children to them to be assessed. The sisters still visit the villages and undertake a variety of other roles in the community). They are cared for primarily by five Sisters of Charity and also have a range of teachers who visit the school – both local and overseas volunteers.
Our three boys were treated to biscuits, as we chatted with the sisters over a cuppa. All of them had spent a few years in France and therefore spoke fluent French, not to mention several other languages between them. They are all pleasant, hard working and selfless individuals. It was an honour to spend some time with them. So much so, we offered to take them all out to lunch next Sunday. Graciously they accepted.
Lets take the Bishop to lunch too.
Soon Sunday was upon us and a minivan had been arranged. As we sat waiting, sister Catherine who is the eldest of the sisters, entertained our children. She showed them colouring pictures which she took to the villages and let them choose a few to take home. They were instantly well behaved around her and couldn’t help but take to her loving, firm but gentle nature. Then we were advised that the Bishop of Palmerston North, New Zealand was visiting. So we invited him along too. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing we were all seated around two tables in a small Vietnamese restaurant, in outer LP. We couldn’t order as the menu was entirely in Lao. So the sisters made their choices. Out came the steaming hot pot along with octopus, rice, noodles, eggs, piles of vegetables, mushrooms and a dish of sardine-like fish. Soon we were all slurping eagerly whilst sister Catherine, cooked and served us eggs. Delicious. It was nice to chat with Charles, who shunned all formality and was just enjoying his holiday in Luang Prabang away from his busy schedule in NZ and Rome. I bought the sisters some beer and a few of them had a tipple. They seemed to all have a good time. Most of the food wasn’t eaten and was dutifully taken by the sisters, for the children. Then with our wallet considerably lighter, we were dropped home and with a cheery wave they were gone.
Read about where this fits into our general trip notes here.
More about the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joan Antida Thouret
The Sisters of Charity of St. Joan Antida are an international community founded on April 11, 1799 by Jeanne Antide Thouret. She was born on November 27, 1765 in the little village of Sancey, in eastern France near the Swiss border. In Italy she is called Giovanna Antida, in the USA, Joan Antida, and in South America, Juana Antida. The name is pronounced many ways, but the woman was one – one in her great faith, deep prayer life and unswerving love of the poor.
Jeanne lived through the terror and chaos of the French Revolution as a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris until all religious congregations were dissolved for many years. Jeanne returned to her native area and, after some years, on April 11, 1799 opened a free school for girls, then a pharmacy and a soup kitchen. Her simple response to the needs of her people for education, food, medical care, faith instruction and worship was the birth of this Community. In addition to the three vows all religious take, these sisters also take a fourth vow of Service to the Poor. There are approximately 3,500 Sisters of Charity of St. Joan Antida in 26 countries. These include the USA, 4 countries of South America, 7 European countries, 6 African countries and 8 Asian countries. Some of these countries are: Paraguay, Romania, Cameroon, Sudan, Indonesia, Laos and Pakistan.
It was Jeanne Antide’s desire “to cross the ocean and go to the ends of the earth if God wanted it.”
The UCA news website describes, an interview in Paris in 2013. Sister Marie Bruno, talks about the difficulties about life in Laos.
“In the north, the situation is particularly difficult,” she said, because “all the outward expressions of faith are banned–whether places of worship, crosses, images, or sacred books.” Words and gestures that can be interpreted as proselytising are also banned.
The nun was born in 1947 in a Laotian family that followed Buddhist and animist traditions…For more than five years now, she is in charge of a government school, home to more than 50 deaf-mute children.
“We take care of children” even though “we cannot give them a religious education,” she said.
The school is financially independent. The school, housed in a government building, is the result of a multi-year partnership between local authorities and the apostolic delegate to Laos.
The sisters work with “extreme caution” and “are careful to follow all the directives imposed by the authorities.”
The centre welcomes mostly young people from ethnic minorities, offering them the opportunity to learn a trade, like cooking or bread making, to integrate into the Laotian society.
When the Communists came to power in 1975, foreign missionaries were expelled, leaving the country’s tiny Christian minority under the new regime’s tight control with clear limits to the right to worship.
Since April 2011, government controls have been tightened, following a violent crackdown on protests promoted by some groups within the Hmong ethnic minority.