I did the hokey pokey and I turned myself around- that’s what it’s all about! I was making a fool of myself in front of a bunch of barefoot, giggling, Lao middle-schoolers, some of whom were not really paying attention in that way that middle schoolers do. Fiercely was close by, doing something similar, teaching one of the other four classes happening in the same room. It was one of our first days teaching English at the Sae Lao project outside of Vang Vieng, Laos, where the kids and I had decided to volunteer.
We were excited to stay on a farm and participate in the eco-conscious projects and English classes there. Oh, and there were two litters of kittens, one set only a couple of weeks old, too! And a puppy!! I think that sealed the deal for the kids.
Sae Lao is many things- a farm, restaurant, and sustainable development center. Their largest project is teaching free English classes to local Lao and Hmong villagers, with 250 students in the children’s classes alone. Volunteers participate a minimum of two weeks.
It was started by a Lao man who is still involved and employs several locals, as well as a few foreigners who stay for varying lengths of time. While we were there, projects included the organic garden and rice fields, a manual brick press that uses local soil, a biodegradable soap-making business for local women, a rainwater filtration project for drinking water, a biofuel system, and of course the restaurant and school. They were also hosting a permaculture workshop soon and building a new structure to house volunteers. Wow, right?! Here are the kids making bricks:
Our first week, we were the only volunteers and we taught quite a bit-3 classes a day for me, 2 for Fiercely, and 1 class of younger kids done by Cleverly and the twins. This took up our late afternoons Monday-Friday. In the mornings we did chores and made breakfast from scratch, then did morning work like the bricks or the garden. Here are the younger kids teaching and a Saturday activity of making a sculpture of the new Sae Lao logo with recycled bottles:
It was really lovely watching my homeschooled kids teach. They mostly loved it, and I think it was a great experience for them and the students. They also helped out a little in the kitchen and restaurant.
Below: making noodles and hanging out with the kitchen staff, who doted on them
The rice harvest started while we were there. It was hot, sweaty work, but fun for us for a while. We definitely did not have the stamina of the locals! Rice is a labor-intensive crop and I think we all appreciate it more now. Our new friend L from the Czech Republic was a volunteer with us our second week, BTW.
So there was a lot of work, but time to play as well. The locals celebrate ‘Buddha day’ once every 8 days or so, following the moon cycles, when no work is done. We did the same, though classes were still taught. Our first week Buddha day we (minus Truly, who didn’t feel well, and Fiercely who chose to stay with her) climbed this mountain to the little hut on top. You can kind of see the hut below, at the top left of the mountain:
That’s all for now, I’ll write a part 2 on this soon.