Volun-tourism, Part Four

Friday, May 22, 2009

We've had house-building, dolphin-counting and farm-tending. The (probably) last volunteering option that I've given some thought to is based in the town of Luang Prabang, in Laos. It's another program run by Global Vision International (they're the dolphin people), here's the rundown:

Enjoy the amazing culture and traditions of Laos, the “Land of a Million Elephants”, teaching novice Buddhist monks and community members in the Royal City of Luang Prabang, a city of silent saffron robed monks and ancient monasteries on the mighty Mekong River.

In Laos, many rural boys move to urban areas to ordain as Buddhist monks for low-cost living and for the opportunity of an education. As a GVI volunteer, you will teach English – the most popular subject – to the monks at Wat Siphoutthabat School in Luang Prabang, helping the school’s few staff to provide their students with an excellent education. Volunteers will have time off at weekends to explore the local area and can take a boat trip up the Mekong to the Pak Ou Caves, swim in the Khuang Si Waterfalls, watch the sunset from the top of Mount Phu Si, take a tour of the night market, raft, trek or even take an elephant tour
When I first started investigating volunteer opportunities, it seemed like every other one was something to do with teaching English abroad. That must be the most popular activity for people who want to work overseas. Magazines like Verge have tons of ads for different agencies promising opportunities to "teach and travel", and frequently run articles on topics like "Choosing a TESL* Course". Despite the plethora of opportunities, I wasn't wild about this idea - I was much more interested in a hands-on project like the house-building or farming.

However, this particular program caught my attention. I find the location very appealing; as I mentioned in my TTNY post about Laos, I'm keen on the whole country, and on Luang Prabang in particular. The opportunity to go there for an extended period and really become part of the community sounds great.

Also, my travel itinerary right now has me in Laos in April, which is the hot season (yuck), but also when the Laos New Year's Festival is held, and I think it would be very cool to be in Luang Prabang at that time, especially if I were there as something more than just a tourist.

The nitty gritty details also sound good. Instead of camping on a beach, or living with a local family, volunteers are provided with a private room in a guesthouse (it even has electricity, so take that Dolphin Camp!). And 2 weeks of the program costs $1,190USD, which is cheaper than the electrically-challenged dolphins or the curried worms. 4 weeks in Luang Prabang would be a bargain at $1,590 USD.

Other bonuses? Lunch break is from 11:15m to 1:30 pm! That's enough time to eat, blog and nap!

What are the down sides? You may have noticed that all of the "pluses" I listed above don't have anything to do with the actual volunteer work. That's because I think I'd rather help build a school for the novice monks than teach in one. I also don't have any experience teaching English, though they say that's not required, and that native English speakers are in desperate need.
TEFL qualifications or experience are helpful (as is any previous experience of English teaching), but not necessarily essential as you will be provided with basic training and support during your stay.
Still, I can't help but feel this may not be playing to my strengths. Those of you who know me, please chime in with your opinion on this. I first bookmarked this project quite a while ago, and at the time I remember being really keen about it. Now that I've revisited it to write this post, I have some doubts. I'd love to hear what others think.

* TESL stands for Teaching English as a Second Language, which normally refers to teaching non-English speakers in an English-speaking environment (like Canada). This is distinct from TEFL, Teaching English as a Foreign Language, which would be teaching non-English speakers in a non-English-speaking environment. Both these would fall under the umbrella of TESOL, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. **

** Not that you cared.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading your posts on volun-tourism! One thing I quickly discovered is that many of the pricey volunteer companies are actually based in the USA (or Europe), which makes me seriously question how much of my money is actually going towards the country/school/hospital/community I want to help out....as opposed to running a fancy air-conditioned office somewhere down the street from my own house!

I've done quite a bit of research on-line regarding this subject, and found some interesting looking programs with very reasonable costs involved....in case you're interested, check out:


*These reflect my own personal slant towards Africa of course :) But some of the sites link to other volunteer programs around the world as well.

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