Being president of the Bill Cook Foundation is the greatest job in the world. I get to visit schools and teachers and students and watch miracles taking place. Often I see facilities in great need of improvement, but I always see eager children anxious to learn and parents and guardians who deeply desire a good education for their children.
Most of our work involves elementary and high school students, as well as some special education students. However, we also support several young men and women to attend universities in Laos, Cambodia, and Honduras. A few weeks ago, one of our Lao students—a Buddhist monk—invited me to his remote village in the north for a ceremony to honor me as a kind of patron of the family. So, Monk Sone and I flew into a tiny airport and then were driven about 4 hours, the last hour of which was a deeply rutted dirt road.
The house where Sone’s family lives has electricity, and I asked how long this had been the case. The answer is since last year. The family’s two-story house has no furniture and a simple wooden floor. I was warmly welcomed by Sone’s family and was immediately served one of many meals featuring sticky rice—since that is the crop of the area.
I was awakened the next morning by a loud squeal, which turned out to be the last sound of the pig that would be the main course of that evening's Baci Ceremony. The Baci Ceremony is celebrated on big occasions. At least a quarter of the village’s 400 residents came at least for a while. The crowd gathered, and I sat on the floor with Sone on one side and his father on the other. Soon, the roasted pig’s head and other items were placed in front of me. The heart of the ceremony is when everyone ties a white string on each of my wrists. This took quite a long time. Then, I had the honor of taking the first bites from the pig's head—snout, ear, tongue, and cheek.
I greeted everyone and was invited to drink a local alcoholic beverage out of a long curved straw. I can only say that it was potent! There was music, most of it was western, and the celebration lasted until well past midnight.
Sone has not yet decided if he will remain a monk. Many young men in Laos spend some weeks, months, or years as monks. In part this is because it gives them opportunities to go to school. If he remains a monk, he will be a teacher. Since he is majoring in economics at a university in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, he may choose to enter the world of business. Either way, he will participate in the making of a better Laos. The nation has a sclerotic Communist dictatorship and a weak economy. The United States, in a secret war, dropped more bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War than were dropped in all of World War II, and we have still not removed much of the unexploded ordinance. One of the people in Sone’s village said he could show me a bomb on a nearby farm, but I too ashamed to go with him. After all, it has been 50 years since we bombed Laos.
We need lots of young people like Sone in the developing world to be part of the establishment of just societies that respect human rights. This is true not only in Laos but with our three students in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia and our about-to-graduate Katharine in Cholutica, Honduras.
The honor I received at the home of Monk Sone is really an honor for all of the donors to the Bill Cook Foundation. Because of you, we are making a difference in 16 countries from Papua New Guinea to Myanmar to South Sudan to Kosovo to Nicaragua. I hope you will remain part of our team or join our team to provide education for some of the world’s poorest children