Big Brother Mouse relaxes with a book - maybe one that Souliphone illustrated

Souliphone Yanladsavong

An artist with other popular skills

Souliphone teaching Lao sign language to schoolchildren Souliphone's primary job is illustration, but he also enjoys another responsibility at Big Brother Mouse. He is deaf, and while he can read and write Lao reasonably well, his first language is Lao sign language. One day when we were holding another book party at a school we had visited in previous years, we thought about what new activity we could offer. What about teaching a few words of sign language?

It was a hit! For the first five minutes, the students were a bit confused about what was going on. Then, as it clicked, they eagerly joined in. Many signs are somewhat intuitive. For "mosquito" you pinch the skin on your wrist, then quickly slap that spot. For "buffalo," hold your arms up and out, like buffalo horns. Here, children are learning to say in sign language, sentences that many of them already know, from Khamla's alphabet book Frog, Alligator, Buffalo.

Because of Souliphone, we've become more aware of children who are deaf. Is the child standing in the background shy, or is she deaf? In many cases, it's the latter. An hour of sign language, of course, isn't enough for anyone to learn much language, but it demonstrates that there are other ways to communicate besides speech; and children have an opportunity to see a deaf adult who is communicating with others as he takes part in day-to-day life. We're looking for ways to do more for deaf children in villages who aren't yet learning any language.

Souliphone in the Plain of Jars, Laos As we explore ways to improve reading skills, one part of the solution is to get children excited about books, even before they can read. It's always helpful when parents read to their children, but few parents grew up in homes where that happened, and it will take time. Another approach is wordless books. Then children can make up the story from the pictures, without reading. As it turns out, Souliphone is very good at creating these.

Meanwhile, Souliphone is also enjoying the opportunity, on our annual staff vacations, to see new places. Here he is at the Plain of Jars, a day's drive from our Luang Prabang base.