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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Mission... for Lack of a Better Word

Updated: Jan 28

If there is one thing I really adore about the NK Seeds program, it is the missions.


The word just sounds so pious...


There are two things that come to mind when I hear the word 'mission.'


• One... yes... my precarious hometown.

• The second... some kind of calling of a religious organization to go out into the world and spread faith.


I don't know if I'm necessarily comfortable with either definition. If one were to look back on my recent Google history, there would be an abnormal amount of searches intent on confirming that I was not, in fact, joining some kind of religious mission. Had I unknowingly aligned myself with some bible-thumping carnival? I desperately wanted to ask them directly, but I couldn't bring myself to do it in a manner that wouldn't either make me appear as if I assumed (and hoped?) they were religious or... worse... give them the impression that I was.


Regardless, upon arrival, I was pleased as punch to discover that it was not a religious nonprofit. Phewf!


The relief was collasaol.


When they use the term 'mission,' they are referring to occasional excursions venturing to remote parts of northern Laos. During these 'missions,' the team usually delivers and distributes a variety of school supplies to the children... as well as anything else the community might need, should the organization be able to provide it.



In my first week of volunteering, I was lucky enough to do three full days of missions.  I couldn't believe my luck. What an incredible opportunity. People pay a lot of money to be able to experience this kind of thing and there I was, doing it as part of a volunteer stint.  For three full days, we ventured up and down the gently flowing Nam Ou river, past the scenic pastures, lush tropical vegetation, karst rocks and limestone mountains, stopping at remote villages along the way. We visited a total of eight communities, bringing school supplies to the children.


Each child got a notebook, an NK Seeds English-Laos translation book, a pen, a pencil, an eraser and a sharpener.


At each village, I was in charge of notebooks and English books.

Georgia had the pencils and pencils.

Shouna had erasers and sharpeners.


The kids were commanded to line up in a row.

  • Hand them their items.... one by one.

  • Get a few photos.

  • Leave.



There were no introductions, fun songs, questions, thank yous... no real engagement at all. I found this odd... but then again, it was at a time when I was just beginning to collect tidbits of Tea's character. The entire process, though benevolent, seemed to lack a certain degree of compassion. On his part anyway. The rest of us (volunteers) were euphoric! We really felt like we were a part of something.


They seemed happy to be receiving new items, but not delirious. They were always very polite. There was nothing particularly overly-stimulating about any of the products we distributed. There were basic school supplies. To be honest, part of the venture felt slightly staged... almost routine... and our time there was very minimal, which was a shame. Tea doesn't seem to possess the companionable characteristics required in order to make friends and build relationships.


Everything was very militant. 


He seems to pride himself on being unquestionably organized and structured... but I've really seen nothing of his work ethic that mirrors either of those descriptors. I think these missions are more a matter of just getting it done quickly so that he can pat himself on the back and boast about it later.


I highly suspect that everything he says and does is part of a bigger picture.

And that picture is of him.

Only him.

And he has to show that picture to everyone.

And everyone, including himself, has to be in constant awe.


Narcissism 101.

Self admiration ✔️

Self importance ✔️


Young, transient volunteers are just what he needs to keep his ego inflated. Unfortunately hardened old hags like me see right through the façade... and I have neither the inclination nor the patience to tolerate it for any significant amount of time.



During one of our missions, we ended up staying the evening at a local homestay in a village called Sop Keng. From there, we did a short hike to the spectacular Tad Mok waterfall and the idyllic organic farm, Yensabai.


Yensabai Organic Farm is a breathtaking piece of the world. It is a garden built entirely by one man who wanted to get back to his roots, and experiment with a more laid back, happy and sustainable lifestyle. He now welcomes volunteers to work on the farm... and guests are able to camp on the property. Yensabai grows all their own vegetables & fruits and they make all their own food from scratch, without electricity. They even produce their own coconut cider, which tasted a little more like whisky than cider.


It is completely off the grid, which is a bit of a blessing in today's day and age.



We spent a lot of time here, just relaxing. Tea exercised... of course he did... and the rest of us ate, sipped on smoothies, enjoyed the view and relaxed in their tree fort style lounge. I tried a conctoion of sticky rice and omelette with a spicy soya dipping sauce and, as strange as it sounds, it was probably one of the best things I've ever eaten.


It was a happy place.


If I were younger and my knees were better, I would definitely seek out volunteer opportunities here.


Mélissa is the leader of the NK Seeds organization and there is something wonderful and calming about her. She has a compassionate aura and nothing at all like Tea. From the very beginning, when I was starting to realize my dislike for Tea, it was Mélissa's nature that convinced me to stay and fulfill my commitment to the project. Was it not for her, I think. Many volunteers would have found the exit door far sooner than their initial end date. It's difficult dealing with someone who refuses to communicate unless it's a running commentary of self importance or a personal battering of another person, meant solely for the purpose of raising his own self up higher.


My least favourite, yet daily question from Tea, "Will you be doing physical activity today?"

Nope.

Not today, mate.


Of course, he was all about physical activity and made it clear, on more than one occasion, that he wished more volunteers were here to do physical activities with him. Any opportunity for him to take off his shirt and show off his body is another notch in his ego. 


Too bad that we didn't all join this charitable organization to get chiselled. Had he been more personable and less adverse, a good mixture of teaching English and being humanitarian thrown in with a fun workout and a little adventure tourism might have been beneficial...


Shame he's such a douche.




One of the main projects is trying to ensure remote villages have freshwater. Laos has an abundance of water, but it is often inaccessible and due to this, along with sewage, poor sanitation and poor hygiene, leads to an abnormal amount of disease and premature death. 


Just another thing we take for granted... fresh water. 


I did have a roommate for a few days. Shauna, who I mentioned earlier in the post. She was a lovely Muslim girl, from France, and a part of the charity in France that helped to support the fresh water tanks in Nu Luang.


I felt happy that my knee held up for the walks and the river treks. Yes... it was due mostly in part to my vanishing supply of prescription drugs. I suspect the outcome would have been rather detrimental had I not. Tea already thinks all I do is sit on my computer and play video games. I couldn't falter on a simple road trek, let alone getting up from a sitting position on a bench seat in a low river boat. 


On my very first day of volunteering in Nong Khiaw, I found myself in the NK Seeds English school classroom. On the outside, it was just another square, stucco-style building... but inside was more... intense... I would like to say it was elaborately decorated, but describing it as messy and demonstrably unimaginative seems much more fitting. It was a squabble that had occured, involving paint... almost like a kindergarten project. All four walls were splattered with indecipherable half words, hand prints, hearts, squiggles, smudges and scribbles. There were no legible English words or engaging pictures or photos hung up... and the only real redeeming feature of the room was the colourful, hand-drawn map of the world. It struck me as odd that there wasn't more thought put into the decoration that might encourage vocabulary memorization or communication development. It was, afterall, a school... ??


Despite my initial disappointment at the lack of education enrichment, I have to admit, it was a thrill to be there and to be beginning this journey. 


I have almost finished my TEFL course... still one assignment away... yet with this month ahead of me, I felt philanthropic, benevolent and invincible. Nothing could stop me! 



I was set to make a real difference.

I was ready to make a real contribution.


Although, technically, I'm not a real teacher, I was confident that my teaching style would be nothing short of fabulous and enlightening. I fully intended to create energetic and enthusiastic classes, built on fun... and fun alone. I was going to be an honour to be in my class.


I was going to be the next Fräulein Maria.

The hills of Laos were going to be ALIVE... and I was going to be their very own sound of music.


Me.



I was anxious to get down to teaching.

I had SO many good ideas from my course... and I'd even brought my own silly book with me!


Unfortunately my first day was a bit of a let down...

It wasn't what I anticipated at all.

I felt like a deflated balloon...


Tea is not a teacher, but in that classroom, it's his domain and we were mere puppets to his regimen and reiteration. It was a tough row to hoe. Drilling the students to repetitively answer 'I am so so' and 'I am excited' to a 'how are you?' question seemed odd and unnatural.


Who says so-so?


Ok... yes.

Meh?... yep.

So-so... no-no.


Teaching the kids to 'turn left at the T-Junction' was also bizarre. I don't think I've used that term since Driver's Ed. There was no vocabulary pre-teach, no engaging games, no sing-a-longs... nothing appealing or captivating at all. It was all very militant and peculiar... to the point of comical. His pronunciation, word stress and intonation was not what should have been standing at the front of that class, teaching English.


Should he have been there, assisting with translation and understanding? Hands down, yes. Should he have been teaching English? Hard no.


I was really under the impression that I would be more involved with the teaching. It was a true disappointment that I wasn't. Depleted balloon...


Each time I spoke to Tea about the classes, he would spin off in this ciruticious, one-sided discussion about how important he was, how much he had to do, how he had to work with authority, how the students were always asking for more time off and how the organization couldn't afford a teacher. 


"I have to work with authority" is an everyday excuse, argument and placemat... and the sentence has come to infuriate me. It sounds like a which sounds more like he learned English from a John Cougar Mellencamp song than anything else.



My real question was never answered. Why wasn't I more involved in the teaching?


More on that later...


English school is only in session on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 4:30-6:30pm, so there is a lot of free time during the week. During these idle hours, we often engage in activities such as plastic recycling & repurposing. I shouldn't really pluralize this because, so far, it's been the only activity we've done... and IF we do it each day, it's usually for no more than an hour. We take the plastic tops of pop bottles, cut them up into small pieces, melt them down and mold them into something else ~ a process called plastic thermoforming. It's a bit of a tedious process and I've tolerated many blisters due to the dull knives. We have made key rings, rulers and combs out of plastic bottles. 


I can't say that I'm entirely intrigued by the products we produce, but to each their own.



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