Newsletter# 1 Reflections by Lucy Martin: A week before I arrived in the North East of Thailand wooly hats were donned at night, now it’s boiling hot, but thankfully the river and its banks are cool and muddy. We 4 are sitting by one the Mekong’s tributaries that flows through , each in our own spot. This meeting with the river marks the beginning of our journey down it. Contemplative in the giving and the receiving. It is an alignment of spirit with the Mekong, we are entrusting ourselves to it, to her and where she will take us. Our agenda is not fixed but her people and their stories beckon from all along her watershed thanks to the groundwork done by Gaia School Asia. My meeting here confirms my role, our shared role, the unearthing, and enlivening of these stories once again with children and youth, celebration of all that she gives to all beings, igniting love lost and respect for this sacred river. Saddled with our belongings and activity materials we leave for Vientiane, the capital of Laos, a couple of days later. It’s even hotter here, but there is reprieve of air conditioning and fine quality coffee is all around. This is not the Vientiane of 15 years ago I remember. It’s all so civilized, and I suspect a reflection of influx of NGO’s in the last 10 years. We’ve an appointment to meet the director, Didi of the independent primary Lao school -the Sunshine school. The Sunshine School has been set up by Anananda Marga. Ananda Marga is global spiritual & social service organisation that was founded in 1956 by Srii Srii Anandamurti. As an organization, Ananda Marga has a global network of centers in virtually every country of the world. Its activities encompass a wide range of projects for the welfare of humanity, animals, plants and the whole planet. These include yoga and meditation centers, schools, children’s homes, food distribution centers, disaster relief, medical centers and community development projects. Emphasis is placed on meeting the needs of the local people and assisting them in developing their personal and social resources for the prosperity of all. Ananda Marga has nuns who follow the teaching of their spiritual leader & they are called Didi (meaning older sister in Hindi). The life of the nuns is one of service to humanity, the earth & they get posted in all over the globe. We meet principal Didi and her deputy head Phonsawang of the Sunshine School. We are warmly welcomed by them. This face to face meeting reveals they have a farm an hour from town where they are developing Permaculture techniques and running a Kindergarten. “Would we like to visit it?” Excitement stirs “ When?” “ How about now?!” Next thing we know we are bundled into the back of big modern 4 by 4, the deputy head Phonsawang squashed in the front next to a boy caressing his a battle scarred cockerel. The rural element in an otherwise modern outfit. Vientiane disappears behind us and with one turn of the highway we are suddenly in rural Laos, all red dust roads and potholes. We arrive by a river, with only a mere wooden raft to cross it, we await another more obvious ferry choice. No, apparently not the raft will do. We bump onto it amused by the contrast of our modern vehicle backdropped against forested river. Cattle and dust and great trees with enormous canopies greet us on the other side of the bank. The youth in this village are interested in the program Gaia School has to offer. Sunshine school’s farm will provide a setting for effective learning through direct experience. Possibilities are abound -their farm is a fantastic resource. But first things first, our first workshop back at the sunshine school in Vientaine, with 40, 10 year old students is scheduled. It’s a wonderful start. The Lao kids are lively and keen to participate. With a blend of songs, English practice, games and drawing, we collectively move towards greater awareness and sensitivity of our natural environment. It culminates in a positive action each of them proposes to take, represented as “a flower for the Earth” A book is made with their drawings as a tool for reflection and remembrance of their pledge. For Gaia School Asia, the first roots have found their way into Laotian soil, a cross Thai-Laotian pollination has taken place, the seeds of their flowers to be nurtured by this relationship. To be part of this feels wonderful, authentic and empowering. Onwards and outwards, we’ve another visit to make. The haze of lunch digestion is dispelled with a stop at the coffee shop. CORD a well established NGO in Laos has very kindly provided the space at their office for this gathering of NGOs volunteers & youth from the environmental and educational sector. We are offering an introduction session on Deep Ecology and to share what Gaia school Asia does and help design appropriate courses and training for them. I invite anyone interested in exploring this theme to look: http://www.joannamacy.net/deepecology.html To be continued…………..