The kids look up to you with intrigue in their eye, sitting on the dusty concrete floor, slowly eating their lunches as curiosity floats through their mind as to what these strange foreigners are doing in their school.
They have seen foreigners before, it’s not unusual to the school kids to see a volunteer teach english in Laos, but to wander through the school grounds with fellow volunteers from abroad is an experience to saviour.
They stare at you with curious eyes, some smile, a few frown and some of the kids run up to you as if you are a Rock star here to perform a hit concert.
However I am far from Rock stars, not even close, I am a volunteer in Laos here to lend a helping hand and hopefull y make another persons day better.
However, you wave, smile and hand out a few high fives, and it instantly hits you at what you’re doing in Laos and you have sudden pride in the decision to volunteer abroad.
It’s an experience like no other to be volunteering in Laos, travelling into an undeveloped country with little infrastructure and dodgy roads full of pot holes.
The smell in the air is different to what you are used to at home and their way of living comes unique to the standards of western civilisation.
Yet, you don’t let it deter you. It’s why you choose to do volunteering in Laos duties and to support those who need it most.
Of course, you can’t change the world, but for a fleeting moment, you can change the experience of someone’s life and bring happiness to others.
The life changing moments are achieved by doing little things in life, and you create a lasting memory which will last a lifetime.
An Epic Journey of a Volunteer in Laos – Travel Adventures
What triggered the decision to do Volunteer Work in Laos?
I have travelled to some fabulous destinations throughout Southeast Asia, stayed in some luxury resorts, drinking booze by the pool and have been on some incredible adventures through a variety stunning scenery.
I felt the need to do something different this time, to give back to a community that needed a helping hand. Therefore, I made the decision to do some volunteer work overseas and the only decision to make next, was which organisation to volunteer with? And which country to visit?
I searched a few voluntary services overseas on the internet, studied the many countries available, the prices and the programs on offer. Some organisations were quite hefty in price, so I went with the more affordable International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ).
At the end of the day, the IVHQ organisations were professional and thorough; the only thing to do was to pay the fees and choose which country to do my volunteer travel experience.
Amongst several eye-catching destinations, I narrowed it down to Nepal and Laos, and for no particular reason, I chose to volunteer in Laos.
The Green Lion Volunteer Organisations
Once your dealings with IVHQ are concluded, you are more or less handed over to the organisation running the organisation in Laos, which is The Green Lion, tot that contact with IVHQ is ever lost. Two great guys run the Green Lion in Laos, brothers, in fact, Micky and Ticky.
They pick you up from the airport and help prepare plans for a weekend away. Micky and Ticky also work through any translations required with the locals and provide the schools or monasteries to teach English during your volunteering work.
The accommodation is a little away from the Laos Capital, Vientiane and there is not a great deal to do at the placement, except to visit a few local markets and play sport with the locals and other volunteers.
The rooms are dorm style, with three bunk beds in each room and a small bathroom. Thankfully, it’s not fully occupied, although you’re still not alone in the dorms.
In the placement area on the Green Lion grounds, there is a kitchen and dining area. A common social area under a terrace that overlooks the fields and a small water feature. There is occasional WIFI, and a boutique sports field made entirely of a gravel playing field.
A Splash of Culture when you Volunteer
Entering the Green Lion organisation, it’s not just about getting into the nitty and gritty of your volunteering work.
The program begins with a step through a little educational Laos Culture, starting with making flowers for the monks and delivering it to their very own temple where they lived their every day lives at the Vat Pana Khoun Temple.
Not only did we offer the monks the hand-made flowers but we received a spiritual and deep meditation lesson from the gracious monks themselves. Learning and doing new things had well and truly began.
The culture trip in our Loas travel continued through the week with a day trip into the capital city in Vientiane, where we learnt about the tragic tale of the cluster bombs, a tragic tale that destroyed many innocent lives long after they were ejected from a U.S war plane during the Vietnam War.
The best bit, however, was entering the Golden Palace, a stunning Buddhist temple, decorated with symbolic statues seen regularly throughout the South East Asian countries. Laos tourism has a lot to work with to get more travellers into the country.
Further into the week we ventured deep into a local village, a real highlight of work in Laos, as we walked down the dusty gravel road and witnessed how the locals lived during a typical day.
The houses are made of wood, and there are no windows. Everyone is smiling, and the kids are playing on the streets without a care in the world. It’s terrific to see a different world to what you’re used to.
A hike through some beautiful Laos bush-lands in humid conditions capped off culture week, finishing on top of a rock with a great view of the countryside in Laos.
It was the perfect spot for a picnic lunch with the fellow volunteers, although there was no respite from the heat. The food prepared was a treat with a variety of different Lao meals to go around.
Teaching English to the Monks
From an outside perspective, I have always viewed the monks as extraordinary people, and they are exactly that, special and fantastic gentlemen.
To approach a monk, to even communicate or to even shake one’s hand, from my perspective, I always thought it would be on the forbidden side.
Not that I had previous dealings with monks beforehand, and any knowledge I did obtain was simply a guess. I had to volunteer in Laos to change that perspective and how wrong I had been.
It was a privilege to be in the presence of the monks, to talk with them, to teach them and to even laugh with these great men.
In life, no matter the person or their position in the world, everyone is a human being first a that is a great lesson to know. That rule is no exception to the monks.
They have a great sense of humour, full of wit, character and at times, even a little cheeky. If that’s not enough, the monks in Laos also go on Facebook, and if you befriend a couple, you’ll see they’re quite active throughout their day.
Besides their excellent character, sense of humour and their obsession with Facebook, the monk’s willingness to learn English was astounding and they were simply a pleasure to teach.
Communicating at times was quite tricky, but they never shied away from the challenge of learning English and their development over time gradually improved. Even if our time as a global volunteer in Laos was short-lived.
The Challenge of teaching English to the primary-aged kids
I always knew this journey would be a challenge, I mean not one of the volunteers are teachers by profession, we only know how to speak English.
The kids idolised the volunteers from the moment you walk into the school grounds, but to maintain the focus of a child who couldn’t speak our language, was another challenge completely. Although that’s the life of an international volunteer abroad and that’s the challenge to overcome such obstacles.
They had the fundamentals of English, in terms of counting, shapes and the alphabet, but to go further than the basics was when the roadblocks began.
All over again, I had to learn kid songs and basic games to hold their attention(my kids had passed that stage). To the best of my ability to teach English, I tried to entertain the kids when boredom started to sink in, trying being the keyword.
It was these kinds of challenges that made me sign up for the Laos volunteer programs in the first place.
The unbridled joy came when everything clicked together, and the students would burst out in full voice, to make everything seem worthwhile. It was hard work but high reward daily.
Getting along with fellow volunteers from all over the world
An unknown when volunteering abroad is who will be joining you on the adventure.
Upon entering the program, you anticipate a lot of things, and you expect volunteers to be of different nationalities and different age groups.
You can imagine my surprise when I rocked up at the Green Lion Organisation, and a majority of the volunteers were university students. At the tender age of 35, I was the oldest at the program by a considerable margin.
During my time at the placement, there were seven French people, two Danish girls, two Malaysian women, a Dutch woman, an Englishmen and a Canadian. I was the lone Aussie.
All the volunteers were youthful, at least to me, but they’re great young people, who had good intentions. We’re there for a common cause, to volunteer and to lend a helping hand any way we could.
It was a pleasure to meet such fine people, and forever there will be great memories of the time spent together. Especially during those tense volleyball matches against the French.
An Experience that I will Never forget
To volunteer in Laos, is an experience that I’ll never forget and a journey I am glad I participated in at least once in my life.
Memories were created, friendships were made and I can only hope that I reached out to people who needed a lending hand or to even have a good laugh for a short while.
It was an incredible adventure and there were challenges when venturing into an underdeveloped country.
If you ever have a chance to volunteer, and the finances permit, take the journey into volunteering organisations and give back to travel where you can, because it is a rewarding experience that you will never forget.