Tuesday 1 September is a day I will remember for the rest of my life. The journey to this day was a long one. It began in October 2013 when my sister-in-law Kathy got the ball rolling for us to start fundraising for ChildFund’s work in Laos in memory of Gavin, Lea, Jade and Manfred. At that stage I could never have dreamt it would come to this.
We chose to fundraise towards the construction of a new preschool because our little Jade and Manfred were of preschool age and they were so lucky in Australia to have the choice of many great schools. The total cost to construct the preschool was $81,000. Incredibly, thanks to the generous people who love and cared for Gavin, Lea, Jade and Manfred, we not only raised the amount, we actually surpassed it! It was these people who got us to Tuesday 1 September, the opening of the preschool in Pha-En village in rural northern Nonghet district.
It was with great anticipation we set off on that Tuesday morning for Pha-En village. We didn’t really know what to expect, but we knew it was going to be something special. Dad and I were accompanied by my husband’s uncle, four of our friends and Lea’s older brother, Seng, who lives in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. It was wonderful to have someone from Lea’s family with us.
The village is in the mountains near the Vietnam border, so it isn’t an easy trip to get there. It was a bumpy ride, to say the least! Being wet season, some parts of the road were a little worse for wear. I still don’t know how the drivers did not get bogged. The terrain was beautiful – so green. It was a mix of corn fields, rice paddies, valleys and beautiful jungle.
When we arrived at the village, we drove through a gate and into a large grassed area. It was here that I saw a sight I will never ever forget. The impact on me was huge. Even as I write this I get tears in my eyes just remembering the feeling.
The entire village was lined up creating a path to the steps of the preschool. First in line was the village chief, followed by the children, some of whom were dressed in their traditional clothing and holding flowers for us, then the men and women. They clapped in unison as we greeted and wandered through all of them. I think it would’ve been impossible for anyone to see this and not feel emotional. Certainly within our group, there wasn’t a dry eye amongst us.
Coming to the preschool, I felt so many emotions all at once. I felt so proud, so happy and so lucky, but still sad at the same time. Sad that even though this was all about my brother and his beautiful family, they would never get to experience this incredible greeting. I didn’t feel worthy of the welcome, if only we could’ve had all the people who made this happen along with us.
When we arrived at the steps of the preschool the first thing I noticed was the plaque on the wall with Gavin, Lea, Jade and Manfred’s name on it. I am so proud that this will always be here in their memory.