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My Volunteer Vacation in Laos, part two

Our volunteer vacation experience to Laos was absolutely a highlight of our trip around the world. I am completely enchanted with Laos. If any of your future volunteers have questions about Laos I would be happy to answer them. I thought maybe you would like to see the article I wrote about our experience in Laos for Garden State Woman magazine:

Volunteering in Laos

We first shopped at a bookstore in town and then headed out of Luang Prabang to donate our purchases to a nearby school. As we drove through lush green countryside in Kelvin’s jeep we encountered a traffic jam of sorts when three buffalo lumbered slowly across our path. In the midst of farms and forest, geese, ducklings and goats, we pulled up a small dirt road and came upon three simple cement buildings, our destination. The school facilities did not have running water, and as I used the outhouse and tried my best to ignore the multitude of spiders crawling on a nearby windowsill, I thought back to my own grade-school classrooms. How comfortable they seemed to me now! The school served fifteen different villages and enrolled students in six grades. Because of its rural location, many children walk more than two hours to attend classes. Although school was not in session, we met with the principal and presented him with our donation. He in turn showed us the groundwork of a future Globe Aware project. At the time of our visit just four posts and a thatched roof stood, but the structure would eventually become the school’s first library.

After this meeting, I realized that as Globe Aware volunteers, we were part of an ongoing, gradual, step-by-step improvement of the local community. We saw this first hand the following day when we began work on our next project, building a gate for Luang Prabang’s local orphanage, which is also a school. Past Globe Aware volunteers at the orphanage built sinks with running water outside the dormitories, replaced doors and windows and installed a basketball hoop, no easy feat in such a remote location. Although remoteness is part of Laos’s charm, it also means there is no Home Depot nearby and we would build our gate completely from scratch. We would do everything – buy lumber, cut boards (sometimes with a machete), sand, paint and nail everything together by hand. I do, however, use the term “we” loosely, because Ken, Kelvin and I had so much help from the resident children. Every day as soon as we pulled up in Kelvin’s jeep, ten to twenty incredibly well-behaved teenagers magically appeared from the woodwork, ready to wield a hammer or paintbrush.

As a result of the enthusiastic assistance of the students we were supposedly volunteering to help, I spent little time doing manual labor, which was probably best because it turns out that I am terrible at hammering a nail straight. Fortunately for me, I found an area in which I could be useful: talking. One of the fifteen-year-old girls who had commandeered all the paintbrushes wanted to practice her English. We hit it off well, although when I told her my age (33), she was surprised and said “you don’t look old but you are,” which made me laugh. I decided to focus on the first part of the sentence. Talking with her gave me some insight into the situation of the students at the orphanage-school. She, like many of her classmates, is not an orphan, but when her father was killed in a motorbike accident seven years ago, she was sent to the school. She has brothers and sisters that remain with her mother at home in her small village. She told me she was happy living where she had many friends and could focus on school and studying. Kelvin told us later that many children are sent to the orphanage from rural, single parent families to get an education and are better off than at home where they would be needed to farm to help support their families. The students are well cared for at the orphanage, although it is a struggle: the school relies heavily on donations because the Laos government is only able to provide the orphanage with 1,000 kip, or about 11 cents, per student per day.

After three days of work in brutal Southeast Asian heat and humidity and interruptions due to monsoon-like downpours and losses of electricity, our gate went up at the orphanage. Unfortunately, we could not quite figure out how to hang it straight, but we left secure in the knowledge that Kelvin and a future volunteer group would put the final finishing touches on our work.


This is part two of Krysten Kimmett‘s story of adventure and discovery while on a Globe Aware volunteer vacation to Laos. For part one, click here. For part three and for more volunteer vacation stories, information and travel opportunities, be sure to check back or, even better, subscribe to Globe Aware’s RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feed by entering your email address in the Volunteer Vacations RSS Feed form in the right column.

I thought maybe you would like to see the article I wrote about our experience in Laos for Garden State Woman magazine.
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  1. […] and discovery while on a Globe Aware volunteer vacation to Laos. For part one, click here. For part two, click here. For more volunteer vacation stories, information and travel opportunities, be sure to check back […]

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