Southeast Asia Encountered

Season’s Report 2017-2018

A massive THANK YOU for joining us in Laos this summer and a special thank you to Michelle, Miranda Ben and Stuart who have been a fantastic team to lead our volunteers for 2017 and 2018. 

You may enjoy reading about not only your own group’s achievements but those who came before and after. This will give a complete picture of the vast amount of assistance we can give to the local community with your help!

The work will recommence in May this year when our first group of volunteers from the USA and Canada arrive to carry on with these vital projects.

Elephant Conservation Centre – Sayaboury

The elephant breeding program at the ECC is very integral to the continuity of the Asian elephants in Laos. There are only two elephant births per year amongst the aging population of four hundred domesticated elephants, and six to seven elephant deaths. With those stats, the domestic population of elephants in Laos will be extinct in roughly thirty years. There are around four hundred wild elephants still in the country, but with yearly habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, and poaching, the forests are not safe for them either.

The ECC is no longer offering rides at the centre, because one of the major factors that hamper the continuity of the species is tourist riding camps, where elephants ride for kilometres a day like docile robots, are simply worked to make a profit, and are never bred as it keeps them from working. 

It’s important that the ECC sets itself apart from this industry, as tourists can interact with these elephants in a more natural way, experience their unique personalities, feed them, come close to them as well as observe them from faraway watchtowers as they are in the forest without people around. The volunteers all appeared to gain a lot from this type of interaction, now seeing the issues in treating these endangered creatures like they are vehicles for us to sit on and ride.

  • VESA volunteers are encouraged to think about conservation and to think critically about what they can do to make a difference when they go home (i.e. reducing plastic usage as rubber tree plantations annually encroach on elephant habitat, etc.)
  • Our staff provide further education and awareness of the plight facing the Asian elephant population 
  • The volunteers are able to witness both the positives and negatives of conservation, further emphasizing how important the efforts of places like the ECC are in the face of so many struggles

Daily tasks

  • Morning hike into the jungle to pick up an elephant from their “bedroom”
  • Lead the elephants to the lake where we observe them having their morning bath followed by interaction with the elephants
  • Follow the elephants to the socialization area where we observe them from a platform on top of the hill. Here, we get to see the elephants socialize in a herd and are free to act and eat as they like
  • Hospital visit where we get a tour and briefing of the work they do at the hospital and crèche. Here, we learn more about the biology of the elephants.
  • Target training- we observe the biologist, mahout and their elephant in training at the crèche. The training helps the elephant become comfortable with being touched and having to lift their legs, ears etc. so it’s not scary for them when they need medical attention
  • Bath and interaction at the ECC
  • Walk the elephants back into the jungle in the evening and then hike through the elephant garden

Ban Vangsoy Primary School

60 students 
4 teachers
Location of school: Ban Vangsoy, Sayaboury

The students' parents are mostly shop owners with no conversational English experience whatsoever. The students have better hopes and chances to secure employment in government and in tourism industries with our intense English language programs.

The project for the 2017/2018 season was to refurbish both school buildings. 

The school had no toilets, classrooms were unpainted and very dark and on warmer days very hot and uncomfortable for students and teachers.There were no walls separating classrooms in one building.

  • refurbish classrooms = better teaching environment
  • install toilet for student = students will be able to use toilet at school rather than having to return home 
  • install ceilings in both classrooms = this will stop classrooms getting so hot on warmer days and summer 
  • install compost bin = educate the school community of the benefits of compost and families can use on their gardens 
  • install rubbish burner = educate school community of more sustainable methods of dealing with waste 

Over the season we completed four Asian style toilets, with self-composting septic tanks and basins for handwashing.

We also installed cement flooring inside three classrooms, so during rainy season the kids can still go to school, and it’s no longer just a mud floor. 

Also we cemented the walkways from classroom to classroom for the same reasons. 

Group 1

Construction at the ECC

Awesome start to the season, accomplished a lot in such a short space of time. 

Initial plan for the week was to just install the water guttering around the elephant nursery, however we near enough finished the whole system, with the installation of the medical waste tank and majority of the ramp installed. This group were committed to getting the 2.2meter hole dug and the medical waste tank installed, and with a solid effort from Jakobus taking us home after everyone had played their part, meant that the tank could be installed a week earlier than expected. However getting the shorter members of the team out of the whole became increasingly more difficult the deeper the hole got.

  • Trench dug for water gutter, bricked and cemented 
  • Hole dug for Medical waste tank and tank installed
  • Main ramp foundation (needs to be compacted, rocks laid and cemented)

Elephants

After a week visiting the elephants and learning about the ECC’s efforts in conservation and their breeding program, we had quite an exciting day on our last morning at the centre. On our way to the socialization area, we learned that one of the males would be joining the in the hope of him showing interest in one of the females. This is something they do fairly often but usually without much success. However, to much of our and the ECC staff’s surprise, the female elephants surrounded the male showing a lot of interest by flapping their ears and trumpeting. While we continued to watch in amazement, the male chose a female and began mating right below our observation tower! There was definitely a lot of giggles, shocked faces, excited dances and even some tears! Our local ECC guide Mr La has worked with these elephants for five years and this was the first time he’s ever seen mating happen in person! It was honestly such an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime thing to witness. Now, we have to hope that in 22 months we’ll have a baby elephant being born in the centre☺

Ban Vangsoy Primary School

Construction

On the construction site, group b had developed and implemented super-efficient method moving of materials, so much so, that a potential business model was brain stormed on site.

  • Mixed cement and rendered inside of classrooms, 
  • Rendered outside of entire building, 
  • completed outside path, 
  • remove existing toilet facilities, 
  • mapped out future projects, 
  • lay cement inside 2 of the 3 classrooms, 
  • filled in holes in the road, 
  • dug hole for septic tank,

Education

We focussed on verbal communication and reading and writing skills. We work with grades 4 and 5, and the age of the students range from 7-13 years old. 

At lunch, the volunteers and I went the flashcards that have been made by previous groups, made new ones for all the new words incorporated in lessons. It's wonderful for the kids to be in small groups of 4 or 5 per volunteer to practice with the volunteers each of the words and phrases we practice. For every word we also incorporate an action or facial expression so that the kids are associating a word to a feeling (ex: Thumbs up with a smile for happy, thumbs down with a frown for sad, etc.)

During play times we sing songs and play games that help us practice our words and counting, such as Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, and Good Afternoon Mr. Wolf! The kids love soccer, skipping rope, and hand games. 

Huge shout out to Jess for leading “Watermelon Thai Chi” for the children at the school during playtime! Her enthusiasm and eccentric hand movements got all the kids involved. Such a simple game that led to so much laughter; I’ll definitely be continuing it!

In week one we covered:

  • "Hello, what is your name?" "My name is..." 
  • "How old are you?" "I am ____ years old."
  • "Where are you from?" "I am from Laos."
  • "How are you feeling?" "I am... " (hungry, tired, happy, sad, etc.)
  • Animals: Duck, Buffalo, Elephant, Chicken, Cat, Dog, Bird, Tiger, etc.
  • Body parts: Head, shoulders, knees and toes song.

Group 2

Elephant Conservation Centre

This group was the smallest of the season but their energy and excitement definitely made up for it! Everything from work to partying, they took it to the next level! They worked so hard during the volunteer week that we made more progress than we were originally planning.And the mahout party on the last night at the ECC? Let’s just say we had to move the party to more stable ground because of all of the dancing. It was definitely one for the books! The energy continued into the adventure week and it was such a blast being able to keep the group together for activities and do things as one big family. As a leader, it’s always incredible to see a group embrace each other so well and create strong friendships in just two weeks!

Construction at the ECC 

Great continuation of the Elephant creche. This week was dedicated to starting preparations for the medical foot-baths. This group set about digging a trench down so that we can install a wall in the ground to stop the land beneath the foot baths shifting in wet weather. We also levelled the ground where the foot-baths will be placed so that we can concrete straight onto a flat surface. A lot of fun this week, people committed to completing the task at hand, especially Angus and his tree-route-extraction, near-enough spent a day going around digging and finding another root to rip out of the ground. 

Levelled the ground and dug trench preparation for the foot treatment baths. 

Continued work on the ramps around the treatment area.

Ban Vangsoy Primary School
Construction

This group was fun and cheerful from the get go, whilst also maintaining an amazing focuson the objectives of the project week.

WORK ACHIEVED:

  • Mixed cement for toilet. 
  • Completed cement floor in last classroom.
  • Painted base layer of one classroom. Dug septic tank for toilet and installed frames and infrastructure for the bathroom
  • Compost bin and trash burner - Flattened and cleaned area, laid cement slabs, laid and rendered brick.
  • Installed ceiling in classroom. 
  • Removed existing toilet. 

Education

We started each day with asking "What day is it today?" Then the students answer with the day and the month and the date, and one of the volunteers writes it on the board. We play charades with the students and they have to say the correct word in English. We have contests outside where the children stand in a circle facing away, and then whoever is in the middle says an action and the students have to complete the action. If a student does the wrong one or doesn't know, they leave the circle. Whoever is left at the end gets a prize!

The kids are very competitive and love these contests outside and smaller ones inside! 

Ten of the students got a perfect score on their 2nd English exam this program! After the test, we celebrated by crafting on the “Paint your own placemats” that Rachel brought! This painting eventually turned into a fun game of “Let’s paint Miranda, Mr. Ken, and all the volunteers!” It was a day full of giggling as the kids wrote their names all over our arms!

This week we reviewed from the week prior, and built on our skills.

  • Colours: red, blue, green, yellow, orange, white, black, purple, pink
  • Opposites: Tall/short, Big/small, Inside/outside, Day/night, Good/bad, etc
  • Family terms and questions such as Do you have brothers/sisters?
  • Months of the year and days of the week
  • Birthdays and dates
  • Actions: sit, stand, spin, jump, etc

Group 3

Elephant Conservation Centre

The week started out with beautiful weather that unfortunately changed drastically within days of being at the ECC. It had gotten so cold and rainy that we were all bundled up with every layer of warm clothing we had. There were definitely a group of people shocked by how cold SE Asia could get, admitting they didn’t believe us when we warned them about the winters here!;) But the group handled it so well! From shopping sprees with Mr Ken and rocking matching bright yellow puffy jackets to bonfires with singing/guitar sessions in the evenings at the ECC, the Aussies and Kiwis survived the cold spell with some laughs (and last minute market shopping).

Construction 

This Group has been amazing in their accomplishments at the construction site. Due to the fact the design of the foot bath had been altered, the group spent the first part of the week correcting the floor plan mid part of the week shifting materials and laying/making rebar netting for the concreate to be laid on top of. And the last day was mixing of the concreate and beginning to lay it. This week Luke spent some time with the Lao builder that work with us and was completely astounded and impressed with their skill with fabricating everything we use on site, the Lao builder himself was pretty impressed with Luke’s building skill also.

Ban Vangsoy Primary School
Construction

This group was the largest of the season and were super helpful. 

Everyone on construction just got on with any task or job assigned to them without complaint. Everyone worked independently really well. 

  • painted second coats of outside of both buildings 
  • painted door and windows of both buildings
  • completed rendering of toilet blocks, compost bin and incinerator
  • painted compost bin and incinerator
  • painted first coat of toilet block inside and outside 
  • painted poles outside of school 
  • organised for ceiling to be installed in classroom 
  • organised for separating wall to be built in classroom 
  • begun returning land to original state around the toilet blocks

Education

Fourteen of the students got a perfect score on their 3rd English exam this program! Each program the number of perfect scores gets higher, and you can see the students really focusing up during the review session, and taking such pride when they get their grade back. The best part of this week for me was when one of the elders in the village came to the school on Saturday and just kept walking up to each volunteer thanking them immensely in Lao.Mr. Ken walked around with her translating between her and the volunteers. I was also amused this week by Eilish and Jordan who both rocked it at the front of the classroom, even with their thick NZ accents. Jordan even requested that I emphasized how to say the word egg, because she wanted there to be consistency with how the students heard it and said it.

This week we really focused on correct pronunciation, and applying words to sentences:

  • Reviewed Days of the Week, Months of the Year, and saying what today’s date is
  • Reviewed “Head, shoulders, knees and toes,” and learned every other body part. (chest, forehead, elbow, etc)
  • Learned fruits (papaya, mango, pineapple, apple, watermelon, melon, coconut, orange, dragon fruit)
  • Learned common foods (noodle soup, chicken soup, fish soup, fried rice, steamed rice, sticky rice, spring rolls, papaya salad)
  • Applied fruit and foods into two questions and sentences: “What is your favourite fruit?” “My favourite fruit is…” “What food do you like?” “I like….”
  • New activity introduced this week: word searches

Group 4

Elephant Conservation Centre

We were on the way to pick an elephant from their “bedroom” all following the mahout down the side of the hill when I noticed our local ECC guide, Mr La, had fallen behind. He was on a phone call so I decided to wait for him while the group continued to the bottom. Suddenly, I hear girls screaming and as I look up, I see our mahout and Zach throwing a ball of elephant poo at the girls. While some took cover, Julia quickly picked up a ball closest to her and launched it at Zach’s head. This went back and forth for minutes with some clear misses while others literally exploded on the person. The mahout was on the ground and I was in tears from laughing so hard. In all the years Mr La has worked at the ECC, he said this was definitely the first ever elephant poo fight. When we finally reached the lake, you could tell the story had gotten around because every mahout was laughing so hard.

Construction 

We hit the ground running mixing concrete and laying it and completed the 4x10m2 slab in 2 days. 24 bags of concrete, a mountain of rocks, a seemingly endless mass of sand and countless blisters later and it was done. 

Set up brilliantly for the rest of the week. After a day of allowing it to set, we were able to help the Laos builder to put together the footbaths and finish up the ramps we have been adding to all season. All in all, a brilliant completion of the project. Being the final program for our beloved Michelle, we presented her with her parting gifts and an early birthday cake. And thanks to all the volunteers who rallied and celebrated with us.

  • Mixed and laid the cement as a base for the foot bath/scale and work area. 
  • Finished the ramps that have been a season in the making
  • Built, rendered the footbaths 

Ban Vangsoy Primary School

Construction

We got to celebrate together with the villagers at the Baci ceremony on the last day of school which was an awesome cultural experience. Everyone really got into the spirit of the Baci - dancing, eating and hanging out with the locals. The school children loved having the volunteers to play games with. Some of the volunteers really got into the local dancing style, which the Lao people thought was hilarious. 

  • painted inside of second classroom and all remaining windows 
  • labelled rubbish burner & compost bin 
  • painted and rendered the inside of the bathroom
  • put alphabets on inside of classrooms 
  • painted other educational picture on walls, e.g basic English sentences, labelled human body
  • elephant mural 

Education

We want to shout out to the seven vegetarians for being incredibly respectful at the Baci ceremony that the Vangsoy village threw for us. They gave us all pieces of chicken as a thank you, and the volunteers took it and shared it with the kids instead of rejecting it. Sierra was handed the head of the chicken, and they all laughed as she graciously accepted but didn’t know what to do with! 

A special thanks to Zachary, who brought more donations for the kids and the school than clothes to wear on the trip. So many balls, toys, and an entire volleyball net!!!

This week we really focused on correct pronunciation, and applying words to sentences:

  • Occupations: teacher, doctor, farmer, builder, student, housekeeper, police, soldier, gardener
  • I am, You are, He/She is, we are, you all are, they are (reviewed all sentences from this season to put into proper context)
  • Utensils: bowl, plate, fork, knife, spoon, chop sticks, cup, napkin, sticky rice basket
  • Nature: mountain, river, lake, ocean, jungle, forest, tree, grass, leaf, flower, dirt, rock, sun, moon, cloud, star
  • Time: how to read digital and hand clocks, minute, hour, second, morning, evening, afternoon, drew clocks and practiced times.
  • quiet, loud, share, please, thank you
  • “Can I have a _____ please?” (Frisbee, ball, jump rope, pencil, pen, crayon, eraser, paper, sharpener, ruler)
  • Oral Hygiene and brushing teeth

Thank you so much to contributing to a great season of work. You can check out our other countries here. All past VESA volunteers will receive a discount on future programs so why don’t you join us in Africa, Fiji or the Amazon next summer and continue the dream.