I couldnt have picked a better program to wrap up my work sabbatical! i'd taken a 3.5 month break to travel and volunteer on various programs in southeast asia. Laos was a super last-minute choice (it's one of the last SEA countries ive yet to visit) and based on my prior experience with IVHQ (Zimbabwe and Cambodia), i had to go with them again. Shout out to Will for the great support and promptly answering all queries. as always, it was yet another memorable experience. Airport pick up was a breeze (thanks to Veo), when we arrived at the volunteer accommodation..well, colour me impressed. It was a new location situated in a nice, quiet village in Naxaythong district, 30 minutes from the airport and 1 hour tuk-tuk ride from the capital, Vientiane. there was a lake behind the restaurant (next to our rooms) and its gorgeous view of the fields took my breath away. Very peaceful.
Orientation starts on Mondays and is very well organized. we learnt Lao phrases, culture do's and dont's, hiked in the forest searching for caves and temples, visited a typical Lao village, had a cooking class, toured the city of Vientiane and its night market, made Buddha offerings as well as spent an afternoon meditating with monks and nuns! Ticky is a funny and amazing guide who can't wait to tell you everything about Laos! Lots of culture immersion which would render useful during our stay working with Lao staff and young children (they speak zero to little english). On Fridays, you will be accompanied by local staff to your placement.
My childcare centre was very close to our house, so we just biked along the main road (there is seemingly only one big road in the village) every morning. takes no more than 5 minutes. Working hours are 9-11am and 1-3pm. In the mornings, we teach the children (aged 3-4, classroom size of 12-15 each time) basic english, like alphabet, colours, numbers, weather, greetings. thereafter they'll have some snacks (sticky rice with meat/fish) which volunteers will assist with feeding. The daily schedule is pretty flexible so volunteers are encouraged to introduce new games/toys/fun concepts of learning catered to their abilities. After they prepare for nap time, we usually return to the house for lunch, before continuing in the afternoon, where volunteers help to bathe, clothe and feed them. Sometimes the teacher will teach them basic Laotian. Being kids, they are very active and have short attention spans, so it's something to consider when coming up with classroom activities.
After work, there's usually nothing much to explore around the village (only the restaurant and a small market across the street) but we do have lots of fun playing card games, karaoke nights on Thursdays, going to Vientiane night markets on Wednesdays, and if you like dogs and cats they are residents at the accommodation too! The cats were rescued by past volunteers from the temple. There is laundry service every Wednesday (for a small fee, i think) where the local staff will bring to a proper laundromat but most volunteers do their own laundry with the basins provided at the house.
Be sure to fully maximize your weekends! Most volunteers will go to Vientiane, Vang Vieng or Luang Prabang. Just speak to Ticky and he will handle your transport arrangements. Laos is very much developing and it's the perfect time to appreciate its history and human geography. Just need to exercise lots of patience as you'll come to experience this cultural phenomenon called "Lao time", as Ticky will tell you, the P.D.R. in Laos is also known as "Please Don't Rush". It's a good thing to know so you can manage your expectations and enjoy your stay!
Food is very typical of southeast asian cuisine - so prepare to have rice every meal! There's also stir fry vegetables, chicken, pumpkin, melon, mushrooms etc sometimes we have fried noodles/ noodles in soup, which i find really tasty (maybe because i'm asian). for breakfast, there's sausages, fried bananas, sweet potato fries, chips, scrambled eggs, and crepes (if the chef is in a good mood!). and there's always rock melons, bananas and watermelons.
Dont leave Laos without doing these two things - enjoy the sunset from our accommodation. take lots of pictures because a beautiful sunset is quite rare around here. ive spent many reflective moments just sitting here in silence admiring nature's beauty. Second, drink some of their national hard liquor - Lao Lao. Don't question it - just be sure to get a taste when you're here!
PS - bring your strongest bug spray!