This is a guest post By Lindsay Holt. In her second blog post we hear about teaching in Laos and gain insights about space, place and impact of education. Lindsay was so inspired by her experience she has taken up the opportunity to complete an internship at the Jay Pritzker Academy in Siem Reap.
During my month in Laos I was able to observe the impact education is having on the the children and broader community in developing a sustainable future. From grassroots initiatives to INGOs (International Non-Government Organisations) much is being done beyond the four walls to maximise the spread and depth of delivery in a country where 80% of its residents still live in rural communities.
The Luang Prabang Library provides an open learning space for the local children, adults, Novices and Monks to study and practice conversational english with visitors (not advertised). Their greatest initiative is their ‘floating library’ whereby a boat library coasts up the Mekong River to areas with limited, or sometimes no access, to books. They allow the people to read the books for as long as they like while the boat is docked, before moving onto another village. The books are sold at the library and when all 20 of the books are sold the floating library goes on another trip. Unfortunately marketing is something Loatians are still mastering the art of, and selling the books can often take months.
Big Brother Mouse is a local publishing house that prints educational, fun and interesting books not only in Lao script, but many with dual print with either English or French. Many of these books end up on the Floating Library, and are highly recommended as gifts for any local family or village you might visit (along with toothbrushes) rather than lollies or toys. To raise funds the organisation invite foreigners to host ‘publishing parties’ to cover to cost of publishing a new book. They also have advertised times for visitors to chat with locals wanting to practice their english. During the peak season the supply outweighs the demand as the holistic travellers embrace their inner teacher.
As a massive fan of elephants I would have felt remiss if I didn’t make the most of being in the land of a million elephants. On recommendation from my local Canadian guide from Tiger Trails (formerly Fair-trek, one of the first eco-trekking organisations in the region) I found the Elephant Conservation Camp in Sayaboury. Elephants have traditionally been deeply respected and cared for by their trainers called Mahouts, they speak a particular tongue and develop an incredible bond with the animals over the course of their lifetimes. Increasingly ‘Chinese Buffalo’ (tractors) are replacing elephants and the local logging industry is becoming more regulated hence investing in the lifetime commitment of maintaining a healthy elephant is no longer socially or financially appealing. The Elephant Conservation Centre have taken the initiative to educate local Mahouts on how best to care for their animals, and what their options are for transferring their skills to the tourism industry.
My Lao teaching experience was with the global voluntourism organisation Global Vision International (GVI).Voluntourism has enabled people from all over the world to access authentic experiences in country that go beyond the shoestring guide. Its increased popularity has many questioning the authenticity of some organisations as the experiences are paid for and run out of country.GVI were open about their concept, where the money goes and how the structure benefits the entire community from the onset. Not only did I have a wonderful experience exploring the challenges of teaching in a third world country, without my time in Luang Prabang I would not have had the confidence to apply for international jobs, nor would I be considered for them.
Prior to my departure I spent many of my allotted ‘study hours’ researching NGOs in Laos, trying to find out what else is being done in country in regards to education. I discovered the US NGO Pencil of Promise (POP) an organisation founded on the premise that pencils provide the potential for children to learn and grow. I was so moved by their simple yet incredibly powerful model I wrote an email asking if I could pop in- I even tried to find their office on arrival- to no avail. By chance I happened to meet a US photographer whose partner is one of two internationals working for POP! My faith in the universe restored, I spent a wonderful evening discussing the trials and tribulations of Monitoring & Evaluation in a third world country.
One month on and I am still incredibly motivated, so much so that I not only applied for but was accepted to my first Graduate position at the Jay Pritzker Academy in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I look forward to embracing the opportunity and continuing on my global education adventure. You can follow me on twitter @Lindsay_D_H or on my new (work in progress) blog A Global Education. A big Thank You to Narelle for the inspiration to write, a wonderful mentor to have.