Monday, April 20, 2015

A Flavour of UNICEF's Lao New Year

UNICEF Lao PDR staff and family members
It’s a warm April afternoon as UNICEF colleagues gather together with their families to celebrate Pi Mai, the Lao New Year. Once a year the UNICEF staff association organise the celebrations for staff and their families. It is an opportunity to look back on the achievements of the year and refresh and renew for the coming year’s child rights and development challenges. The day is one for both children and adults alike. There is a tangible air of excitement. Pi Mai is the biggest celebration of the year in Lao PDR. It’s also a spectacle of song and dance and getting very (very) wet. 

It starts with a many centuries old ceremony called Baci in which an elder Lao, Mor Phone, leads the blessings. Colleagues, children, friends and family all sit around the flower tray and cotton string and prayers are said. 

The “sou khuan” is invoked, meaning “spirit enhancing or spirit calling”. The ceremony involves the tying of white cotton strings around your wrist and a well wishing. Everyone puts on a decorative floral wreath. 

The music is turned up and dry people become wet people, reluctantly at first before the drenching becomes truly thorough. There is no escape. The colder the water, the bigger the shock. 

Children play during the Lao New Year celebrations.
There is song and dance and games and prize-giving. Children of staff from across the UNICEF sections (CommunicationsHealth & NutritionEducationChild Protection and WASHjoin with their parents in the festivities. Young and old partake in the music and food and share in the celebration. It’s hot enough that you don’t stay too wet for long. As evening draws in and people can't get any wetter, it's time to finally dry off, wish colleagues farewell and embark on the Lao New year break with families and friends. 

From all at UNICEF Laos - Sok Dii Pimai!

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