Before I even get started, I would like to start off by asking you to please visit an undeveloped Country at some point in your life. I don’t mean going to Cuba and staying at a five-star resort. I mean go to the other side of the world and spend time in a Country that has nothing. Get to know the people, learn about their culture. It’s a life changing experience. It’s an experience that I will hold with me forever. One that I plan to talk about until the day I die.
June 2015, I embarked on a journey that changed my life. My only regret is not staying longer. I traveled to the beautiful Country of Laos (pronounced Lao), for a week of volunteering with VESA (Volunteer Eco Students Abroad), as well as a week of exploring the beautiful Country of Laos.
*Laos only opened their doors to tourists 25 years ago.
Saturday, June 20 2015 we had landed at the Airport in Vientiane the capital of Laos. It was a whopping 37 degrees, a group of ten of us squished into a van and were off to Dream Home Hostel, luckily for us there was a pool right across the street where we were able to spend a couple hours that afternoon. Unfortunately for us, it was so hot out that the pool felt as though you were taking a bath. It was still refreshing none the less.
This was our first night with our VESA group. It was a group of 25 people mostly from the UK (with the exception of the Australian girl, Monique and myself). We made our way to a local restaurant near by for our first meal together. As a picky eater, I mistakenly decided to stick to western food and ordered a hamburger and fries. Much to my disappointment it was’t that great, and Monique’s Pad Thai was to die for. Needless to say I didn’t make that mistake twice.
After a couple of drinks Monique and I had decided to call it a night. We had been travelling for almost a week before arriving in Laos, needless to say we were quite tired. We arrived back at the Hostel were we were rooming with 16 other girls from the VESA group. That alone was quite an experience.
The next morning we got up early as we had another long day of travel ahead of us. We separated into three vans and drove eight hours to Sayaboury. I luckily was able to sleep most of the time which helped with not getting car sick. After an 8 hour car ride and a 20 minute boat ride we had arrived at the Elephant Conservation Centre.
I must admit, leading up to arriving at the ECC I was quite worried about the fact that I wasn’t going to have wifi for a week. As a 21-year-old Canadian this was my biggest concern. Pathetic right? Wile at ECC we stayed in bungalow type structures that were completely made out of bamboo and the occasional pieces of wood. The bungalows included four hooks to hang your thing. a tiny shelf, and two twin size beds surrounded by a bug net. Luxurious right?
After getting settled into our little bungalow, the bell rang to indicate that dinner was being served. We walk up to the kitchen area where there are four large tables already set. Dinner was rice, a few vegetables and broth. This was dinner every night at ECC. Occasionally if we were lucky there would be mystery meat! Eating the same thing for every meal every day did get a little tiring. (A few days into the week I discovered that you could buy Nutella Pancakes and french fries from the kitchen! Who knew?)
*Please note that the Elephant Conservation Center is home of the most beautiful sunsets.
The next morning we had a 6am wakeup call. We made our way up to the kitchen and had eggs and a piece of baguette (this was breakfast every day.) Our week in Sayaboury at the ECC was the week that we were doing our volunteering. There were four different “tasks” that we would be doing during the volunteer week. We were split up into four groups, and each group would do each task for a day and a half. Three days at a local school doing a day and a half of teaching kids english, and a day and a half of doing construction on their school.l The other three days were spent back at ECC, which included a day and a half of building stairs for the elephants in the forest and farming, as well as a day and a half doing enrichment and hanging out with the elephants.
My first three days were spent at the school. We took the 20-30 minute boat ride across the lake followed by a truck ride to the school. I was lucky enough to have my first day and a half teaching the kids english. These kids were absolutely amazing. I fell in love with every single one of them the moment I met them.
Some background information on these kids: This is the first year that VESA has offered a program in Laos. My group was the fourth out of five groups that would be visiting those kids. What this meant, is that during the span of 10 weeks, every second week the kids would have new people coming from all over the world to spend time with them and teach them english. Before the first group had arrived these kids had never seen a western person before in their life. They didn’t even know english as a language existed. Not only that, but these kids are currently on summer holiday and they CHOSE to come to school and learn, during their holiday.
When we got there, they only had three prior weeks to learning english. I was expecting them to know, hello, goodbye, how are you. I wasn’t expecting to know much more. I was wrong. At this point Cat and the previous groups had really taught these kids a lot. During my time there the kids had their very first written exam. With the exception of one, every student passed. Some even passed with 100%.
These kids don’t have a lot, it’s fairly obvious to tell that they don’t have a lot. But that didn’t matter. These kids were the happiest people I’ve ever met before in my life. I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face the whole time I was around them. I would leave the school every day just about in tears, because these kids, in such a short time had made such a huge impact on me. While yes, I know I made an impact on them as well, I wasn’t expecting them to have such an impact on me.
The following day and a half was spent painting the class rooms, and sanding the outside of the school, to prep the next group to paint it. During lunch, you would catch me out on the field dancing and goofing around with the kids. It was that night that one of the other volunteers came up to me and said “Kayla, you were really great with those kids, they all love you and it’s very easy to see that.” This was something that meant a lot to me, and something I will never forget. The three days spent at the school were hands down the most rewarding and best three days of my life.
That’s it for day! Come back tomorrow for part two of three on how an undeveloped country changed my life.