Every day our Center in Pakpor welcomes a lot of children and teenagers. All of them arrive with their backpack and greet the teachers and their friends when they enter the building. Little groups soon form themselves. With a few spare minutes before class begins, some play football on the sportfield while others exclude themselves in a closed-off spot to gossip about people from their school or village. Whether it are the teachers in the office, the teenagers who go buying a milkshake at the shop next-door or the smaller ones discussing TikTok videos they saw, everyone has that particular social circle that passes the time between arrival and the start of the class.
Only one boy doesn’t really have that social circle. He drifts through us all in his endless quest of discovering the world. He shows up out of nowhere and disappears without a trace. Sometimes you find him on the ground, staring at a map of Laos. Other times he emerges out of the mud after heavy rainfall and laughs hysterically because of the look of his clothes. If he likes you, he offers you a ride on his bicycle, whereby you soon – while going downhill – discover that it doesn’t have any brakes. Ending up in the gutter between the bushes doesn’t scare him, though, he even prefers it over pedaling casually. That seems to be his life motto: everything can be exciting if you give it a chance.
Jacky is seven years old and is not able to speak nor hear. The boy’s name is Jacky, he is seven years old, and he is not able to hear or speak; although that doesn’t hinder him to laugh proudly when he beats you in a game or scream gibberish at you when you don’t pass the ball to him during football. He doesn’t come to the Center to learn English, but just to have a good time. He loves playing a lot of games for which he invents the rules itself. Explaining him that with ‘Four in a Row’ you need, well, four in a row, is almost impossible. Instead, he insists you have to make a square of the same color to win, and later introduces the rule that every three moves you have to use a chip from your opponent’s color – just to make it all that more exiting. Same with a seemingly blunt collection of cards with images of animals to study vocabulary. In an instant he has created a UNO-style game where you can play cards based on color or on the species of the animals; meaning that a red card with an Owl on it can be played on top of a green card with a Parrot.
“Everything can be exicited if you give it a chance.”– Jacky
I am particularly fond of Jacky – most volunteers who meet him are – because of this view of the world, always ready to transform the mundane into a rush of adrenaline. He always shows me how blind I can be regarding the possibilities around us. It’s therefore not a surprise he and I always hang out when we have free time, so much that people refer to him as my son. And somehow, it really fits our relationship; we really are related, share something between us that no one else in the Cen-ter or Pakpor or Vang Vieng has: we both don’t understand Lao. So every time everyone drops the English and starts speaking Lao with the speed of a firing Kalashnikov, Jacky and I find each other immediately to do our own thing. Play a new game, help him to learn typing on the comput-er, take a trip with his bicycle, buy a chocolate milkshake and sit in the shade of the trees…
As a volunteer, you will help a lot of children to improve their English. With Jacky, on the other hand, you have a totally different kind of chance: to enjoy any activity in a beautiful silence. His big smile alone will tell you everything you need to know about having a great time; both in our Center as in life generally.