Passing on Friendship Through Books

In the eyes of the Lao students, the fact that the Lancang and Mekong are the same river under different names hearkens to how China and Laos are a community of shared future linked by mountains and rivers

By Wang Fengjuan, Sun Guangyong

“Hello!” When this writer walked into Lycee Park Ngua (LPN), a school providing education from elementary level to high school level in Laos, China Report ASEAN was greeted warmly by the children with innocent smiles on their faces. Under the blue sky, classrooms and windows were clean and bright. The glittering sun shone on the renovated school campus, which was tidy and made people feel comfortable.

Lancang-Mekong Book House Project

On the newly-built hard playground on campus, students of the LPN were performing traditional Lao dance, while school supplies such as school bags, pencil cases, pencils, and multilingual teaching and tutorial books in Chinese, English and Lao languages were on display at the event venue.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between China and Laos. On February 19, a charitable activity “Lancang-Mekong Book House Project”, co-sponsored by Beijing MW Foundation (BMWF) and China International Water & Electric Corp. (CWE) under China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG) and organized by China Report Press, was held in the LPN. At the same time, the completion ceremony of the LPN renovation conducted by the CWE was also held.

Students from Lycee Park Ngua school watch a promo video before the Lancang-Mekong Book Project charitable event.

The “Lancang-Mekong Book House Project” not only provided stationery and teaching and tutorial books for the LPN students, but also built a “Lancang-Mekong Book House”, offering multilingual teaching and tutorial materials, as well as themed books.

“We wish to ignite hope and brighten the future for more children in need,” said Chen Shi, deputy editor-in-chief of China International Publishing Group and honorary president of the BMWF. The objective of the project is that the people-to-people friendship between China and Laos will be as long-lasting as the Lancang-Mekong River, Chen added. 

Wang Zhihong, general manager of CTG Nam Lik Hydropower Co., Ltd, said that in accordance with the needs of the school, the company renovated the obsolete facilities for the school, hardened the main roads and rebuilt the “central square” on the campus, as well as upgraded the classrooms.

The Lancang-Mekong Book Project charitable event.
The Lancang-Mekong Book Project charitable event.
The Lancang-Mekong Book Project charitable event.

“On behalf of all villagers from the nearby eight villages and all the students and faculty, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to the company!” said excitedly Boumsong Luanglat, principal of the LPN. Since the Nam Lik hydropower station was established, the CTG has continued to help the school build stadium and renovate teaching buildings to improve campus environment. This year, the CTG also repaired the school gate and the central square, and hardened the main roads. In particular, it teamed up with the BMWF to hold the “Lancang-Mekong Book House Project”. All the contributions made by the CTG have benefited the students and faculty of the school.

Holding the school bags from China, students said happily: “Thank you!” and “We will certainly study hard!”

A Thank-you Letter

A teacher and students of Sino-Lao Friendship Nongbing Primary School read the reply letter from Chinese President Xi Jinping on their campus.

Sino-Lao Friendship Nongbing Primary School (SLFNPS) Headmaster Benni took out a treasured letter, which was written in 2019 by the students and faculty of the school to Chinese President Xi Jinping to thank China for its aid in building the SLFNPS and express Laos’ enthusiasm about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

President Xi personally replied to the teachers and students of the SLFNPS. He wrote in the letter that he had learned that the BRI had brought many positive changes to their hometown and their school, improving their learning environment and living conditions. The original goal when the BRI was devised was to facilitate common development in the countries along the Belt and Road and help people seize better living standards, said Xi, adding that he welcomes the students and faculty of the SLFNPS to visit Beijing via the China-Laos Railway at an early date while encouraging the children to pass on China-Laos friendship to the next generation.

“We were glad to have a chance to share our feelings with President Xi through a letter,” Benni said, showing us the original four-page draft. The school also selected 58 paintings by the students and compiled a book of paintings titled Our Stories on the Silk Road.

“We drew the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the winding Mekong River and pagodas,” recounted Vilapen. “Our Chinese teacher told us that the Mekong River is known as the Lancang River in China. If she put a wish in a bottle in the Lancang River, I could catch it in the Mekong. It’s amazing to imagine!” In the eyes of the students, the fact that the Lancang and Mekong are the same river under different names hearkens to how China and Laos are a community of shared future linked by mountains and rivers.

A senior official with the Laos-China Friendship Association who once visited the SLFNPS believes that children are the future of Laos, but that they are also the inheritors and builders of friendly relations between Laos and China. Alongside Vientiane, Pakse, Luang Prabang and Udomxai are also homes to Lao-Chinese friendship schools.

Endless Gratitude

As she talked to China Report ASEAN, Benni rounded up scraps of paper she had picked up from the ground and threw them into the trash can. “Our school has been rated as a model primary school and beautiful campus of Vientiane,” she revealed. “Teachers from both China and Laos are very kind to their students.”

Previously, the school had only one humble teaching building, which was built with money raised by local villagers in 1965. Six classrooms and six teachers could only accommodate 125 students. Due to the limited government budget, a planned expansion of the teaching building never came to fruition. The school was challenged by financial difficulties.

 “Fortunately, we met some Chinese friends who said they would help Laos build new school facilities,” Benni recalled. “I will never forget the excitement and gratitude I felt at that moment.” In February 2012, China Foundation for Peace and Development pledged to help build a new school building with a total floor space of 800 square meters.

In less than a year, a brand-new modern education building was erected, flanked by a playground and children’s entertainment facilities. The students bid farewell to the dilapidated, dark classrooms. “The new campus has a two-story education building and two dormitory buildings for teachers,” illustrated Benni. “Equipped with tables, chairs, blackboards and electric fans, the education building can accommodate more than 500 students. Children were so excited to move to the new campus. We renamed the school as ‘SLFNPS’.”

Sino-Lao Friendship Nongbing Primary School in Laos.
Students in a Chinese class at Sino-Lao Friendship Nongbing Primary School.

“The SLFNPS is a symbol of friendship between Laos and China,” declared Benni. “I suggested to the Ministry of Education and Sports of Laos (MOES) and the Chinese Embassy in Laos that they launch a Chinese course, which was quickly approved by the MOES, and Chinese teachers have arrived. Now each student gets two hours of Chinese class every week, which makes us the envy of other schools.”

In one classroom, fifth graders were attending a Chinese class. The Chinese teacher taped up cards with “world,” “Asia,” “Laos,” and “China” written in Chinese on the blackboard. Students recited the words attentively even though most had hardly traveled outside Vientiane. After reading the word “China,” they exclaimed, “Laos and China are good friends, and we want to go to China!”

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