I first met Mark Steadman in Pakistan in 2013. One evening, at the sublime Eagle’s Nest Hotel, Mark gave a presentation about how he came to co-found Lone Buffalo: a non-profit organisation that teaches young people in rural Laos English as well as giving them the opportunity to play football and make films. It started when Mark met Manophet, who devoted himself to the young people in his community. Mark spoke with passion about a man, and a project, that had changed his life, and that of many young people around him.
During a spectacular two weeks in Laos in October 2016 we met many people and saw many things, but the highlight for me came on day 5 of the trip, when we travelled from Luang Prabang to Phonsovan. It had been a moving day already, as we had spent the morning visiting the offices of the Mines Action Group and the UXO Survivors Centre. Later in the afternoon we arrived at Lone Buffalo and having taken off our shoes, were given a tour of the facilities, which include a small gym, an expanding library of English books, and two classrooms. We were divided into two groups, and whilst I sat downstairs, and met some of the students in the Advanced Beginner class, my fellow travellers went upstairs and participated in the Pre-Intermediate class.
The students were all very welcoming. We talked about our lives and our families. Miss Yer Yang showed me her spectacularly neat exercise book, while Mr Chan explained his hope for the world, which involved ‘a new relationship through smiling’. It was an intense hour in which I felt I had never talked so much, or been so inspired by what I had seen. Finally we watched a short film made by some of the students about the work of Lone Buffalo, and I presented the two librarians with some English/Laos books that we had brought with us.
The majority of these young people are the children of farmers. They live in the most heavily bombed place on earth. Without the help of Lone Buffalo (which many attend after a day at school) they wouldn’t have the chance to study English. We left the school moved by what we had seen of both staff and students: without exception dedicated, enthusiastic and determined to build a future for themselves.