I truly believe that while photographs can make a huge impact and tell many strong stories, there is nothing like being there and experiencing things first hand. The energy, the smells, the sounds, the interactive moments with the people you come into contact with are worth way more than 1000 words. This is a big reason why I love travel photography in 3rd world countries. The experiences change me because I see things that you just don't see living in a 1st world bubble. Interacting with people that literally have nothing, and a lot of times are some of the happiest people I've met is so impactful. If you ever have or make the opportunity to go and visit these places, I say do it. It will change your life.
Laos was pretty incredible. The people are pleasantly kind and helpful. When I arrived, we hit the ground running, and venturing out to PoP locations. We rode out to Pha Thong, which is the first PoP school that was built. We rented motorcycles and brought out some pencils and crayons to the kids. Riding a motorcycle in a 3rd world country really makes you feel like you are traveling, even if you're not he back of one. Roads in a third world country are usually pretty chaotic and you're passing/dodging other vehicles, most of which are much bigger than you. Photographing kids in 3rd world countries has become a favorite of mine. There's always a joy in them that resonates even if they have nothing but a rock to play with. Much a reason why this job was a great fit for me. Pha Thong was a lovely little village, the kids seem to be excited about the school. Its so amazing to hear the stories and see first hand how much the people appreciate the school. The great thing about the PoP model is that village has to put in 15-20% of the building costs, which since they have nothing usually ends up being labor and some materials that they can make themselves. By them putting in this percentage, it gives them pride in the structure and they take care of it. The kids are very eager to learn, and enjoy being in school.
The other village highlight was Pha Thong, which was still being built. The amazing part of this experience, was how far into the countryside we had to go to get to this village. When we arrived, we looked at the site where the school is being built. Men from the village are hard at work mixing cement and working away on the school. A few of the kids are helping out too. Other kids are playing in the structure and you could see the excitement for their new school. This village hardly has any electricity, so we were without for the evening. The next morning the education ministry came down for the Handover Ceremony. We handed over the school to the country, who intern handed it over to the village. A pretty powerful moment to witness because of all the hard work that has been involved. After the ceremony the village and officials had a Basali blessing ceremony for us, where they pray blessings upon us and tie many strings around our wrists. A very powerful moment to see the people's appreciation.
Overall an amazing trip. Traveling with Adam and Leslie was a blast as well all clicked well. Many inspiring and productive conversations came out of our travel together along with many laughs.
I will say Adam Braun, the founder of PoP is a truly inspiring individual, and a huge reason I support the organization along with the great cause. He's a great visionary with a business mind. I believe anything successful has to have both. I believe PoP will be very impactful because of this combo.
For more info on Pencils of Promise visit: http://www.pencilsofpromise.org
See the full photo story here: http://www.nickonken.com/Stories/Laos_PoP