My full name is Mr Xengthong PAJEEJOUALUEMUA, but most people like to call me “Jer”. I am from the Hmong tribe andwas born in a poor background in a large family in Phonxay District, Luang Prabang Province in northern Laos. My parents are illiterate and are subsistence farmers. My family moved to live in Luang Prabang District when I was in Secondary school about 12 years ago. I am currently living in Phouleckchalern Village, and I just finished with my bachelor degree from Souphanouvong University in 2017. I started to learn English when I studied in the first year of secondary school in 2005, but my English was very poor during that time. I studied at school, but most every school in Luang Prabang province only offered two hours per week to learn English. If any student were interested in speaking English well, he/she would need to find another English class to learn with personal English teachers or in an English Center. Most of the students did not speak English since most of them were from a poor background and lived in the countryside. They could not afford to pay to study in extra English classes.
I was very excited about speaking English, but I was also one of the deprived students who came from a very poor background. I decided to search for foreigners to practice English directly in Luang Prabang, while watching my friends speaking English to foreigners and read English books. Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage town, making it attractive to tourists. From what I have seen personally, Luang Prabang has more English speaking tourists than any other place in Laos.
I had been practicing and learning English until about 2011. Fortunately, I found an American English teacher named Michael who is running a non- profit project called SMILE Project which offers free English lessons for poor students. I have learned much from him as I was like his Lao son. I went shopping with him and practiced English while we were walking, eating and visiting places in Laos. I can speak English well because of him and other friends who have helped me.
As I have explained a little about myself above, I have experienced diverse suffering since I was young. I come from a large family and have not relied on my parents for money since I was in high school or met my English teacher. From then, I started part time work in different roles in tourism related businesses around Luang Prabang. I went to school all day and then spent all night working. In the evenings with what little free time I had, I searched for foreigners to practice English.
According to what I have seen and also experienced personally, there are still many poor people in Laos. Much of the population are rice farmers, living in the countryside and cannot afford to send their children to school. There are many different ethnic groups in Laos, and many of the ethnic minorities are very poor. Without education, students cannot get good jobs and in Laos, it is very important for students to speak good English for employment.
Thus, I decided to open my own English class to teach English to students. I started last year in my own village; Phoulekchalern Village, Luang Prabang. It is not easy but I have done my best to help these students. I have never learned to be an English teacher formally, but I used my experience when I trained to teach my friends by having an extra class (part time) for them while I was in high school. Many students used to come and study with me and that’s how I became an English teacher. I spent some time working in a private English school and then decided to offer my skills to people who need them in a non-profit way.
I believe that starting this project was a risk for many reasons. I just got my bachelor degree in Finance and Banking. I did not have a job to receive a salary, so I lacked funds to buy the things I needed to teach poor students. I therefore decided to charge the students who live in the town if their families can pay anything. I talked about this with the students and we agreed to all help each other. In the future, I hope we can change it to be free for more people. Despite these obstacles, I am very jubilant and proud that I was able to start making a little change for the education of Lao students, especially students who are poor. Most of the students who studied with me last year say this has helped them. Of these, about 7-10 are our top students, and their lives have changed the most. They started to learn ABC’s with me last year and can now communicate well in English. They have been inspired to find foreigners to practice English on their own. A few of them have started working in restaurants and guesthouses to support themselves. Therefore, they do not rely on their parents for money anymore. These are successes that I am very proud of. I am thrilled about this because as I was helped by the SMILE Project, now I have my own project to help others. I have learned how to teach, improved my teaching techniques and helped people to help themselves since starting this project. If you would like more information about my project or some photos, I would be very happy to share these.