"Thongchanh discusses monastic life with a young novice."
The students are tired. Immersed in the escape of iPods and attendant ear-buds, they loll listlessly as our
|Cluster Bomb in it's original casing|
|Cave-combing for old treasures|
|Captivated children mimic our sign-language for “I love you!”|
How easy it is for kids to mistake cluster bombs for toys
In the process of our investigation, we learn a great deal about our unconscious universalizing of western values. Our vision broadens as alternative viewpoints are brought before the lens. "What are your hopes and dreams for the future?" Is a puzzling inquiry to people who live exclusively in the present moment. "What would you say to the pilot who dropped the bombs and caused your dad's accident?" "Do you know which country is responsible for the UXO problem on your land?" These are unanswerable questions to those for whom the past is to be relinquished as one season flows into the next.
Mr. Not struggles to find words to describe his feelings
symptoms of PTSD, clinical depression and suicidal tendencies, the concept of seeking therapy for their "mental health" is completely foreign. "Sadness is just part of life," ThongChanh, our once-monk-turned humanitarian tour guide (who the students affectionately call "TC") explains to us. "We don't have doctors for mind sickness. If you're sad, eventually you make yourself feel better." The notion that Mr. Not, a nearly-catatonic 14 year old cluster bomb survivor will just someday "cheer-up," is unlikely. None of his family expects it to be so. They have resigned themselves, --- and by extension, the boy himself---to acceptance that he is "forever changed" for the worst.
And yet, after 25 minutes of ground-gazing, repeatedly dead-end, three word answers to our questions ("I don't know") -- a somewhat exasperated question posed to Mr. Not ("Why did you want to talk to us at all?") exposed the silent scream within:
"Because I hope you will help make it better so I can live a normal life again."
As it turns out, we are all made of the same stuff: the most universal expression of humans in need is also the most basic call to action: "Please help."
|Procession of Buddhist monks, Luang Prabang|
How will the students weave the personal narratives they've collected into a force of good? We brainstorm the possible "calls to action" their videos will compel from sympathetic viewers. Victim assistance, educational campaigns, UXO clearance, pressure Congress to appropriate funding, sign the cluster-bomb and land-mine ban treaty. Which is most effective? What will bring the most immediate relief from this decades-long legacy of unjust suffering?
|Students wait to give alms of rice to the monks|
Cheri Gaulke, the highly accomplished chair of Harvard-Westlake School visual arts department , and magnetic force which inspired kids to take this trip in the first place, is smiling at me. Her eyes are twinkling in that "We just created magic!" kind of way. And with full confidence in the knowledge and vision and follow-through these students now possess, I smile and twinkle, too.