And we’re off and giving….Well, in case you hadn’t heard, GVI Laos is running the most awesome Charitable Trust Challenge ever! 13 volunteers and staff are getting up in the dark at 5am to give alms to the passing parade of some 150 Buddhist monks and novices in the daily ritual known in Lao as Tak Bat. Why would they do it? To inspire their friends, family, colleagues and strangers to donate to the Charitable Trust Challenge, which in Laos raises money to provide educational sponsorships and scholarships to disadvantaged young Lao students.
So, how is it all going you ask? Amazing! Day One saw everyone up really early, dressed resplendently in their sins and scarves (traditional alms-giving attire). Local elder, Chanpheng, had laid out mats along the road and provided ritual silver bowls to aid in the alms giving. Volunteers were loaded up with biscuits to offer – sticky rice being just a little too challenging for the uninitiated! – and participants proceeded to drop the little parcels into the collection bowls of the passing saffron procession. Tak Bat in Luang Prabang is sometimes distorted by tourists who fail to show proper respect (http://landlopers.com/2012/05/27/alms-luang-prabang-laos/ ) for the tradition and instead use it as another tourist attraction to be exploited. GVI are proud to reverse that tendency by ensuring volunteers are dressed in traditional garb, seated properly, follow all protocols under the watchful eye of the village elders, and refrain from the photo circus so common during the ceremony. It’s a delight to see!
So Day Two of a total of 5 mornings has been ticked off, and volunteers were rewarded this morning with a stunning sunrise on the journey home. With merit-making in abundance and £2555 raised by volunteers and staff – representing 50 donations to date and 51% to target – it has been a successful Challenge so far and looks set to be one of Laos’ best yet!
GVI Laos has just completed the first 4 weeks of Term 1 2012 teaching English at Wat Pha-O Buddhist Secondary School - a newly purpose built school in the Pha-O village about 20 minutes north of Luang Prabang. GVI Project Manager was asked personally by the Abbot of Wat Pha-O, Satu Ongeo, to organize the implementation of an English Program in the school. Satu Ongeo has welcomed the GVI volunteers to work there. This invitation is indicative of the good name that GVI has within the Sangha Education Community as Satu Ongeo is one of the High Monks in Luang Prabang. He holds responsibity for the secondary education of Novices and Monks in all of Luang Prabang.
Satu Ongeo has been the driving force in getting the school built on the property of Wat Pha-O, a beautiful forested large piece of land, bordered on one side by the Mekong River and on the other by dramatic limestone cliffs dense with growth. From the classroom windows this vista is breathtaking. It was a purposeful intention to build a new school outside of Luang Prabang in a rural environment so Novices would have less distraction in their lives compared to what they experience in living in temples in Luang Prabang with the increased tourism and growth.
Wat Pha-O School is home to over 270 Novices. The vast majority of the Novices living and attending school at Wat Pha-O are from the northern provinces of Laos and typically come from poor farming families. Whilst doing merit for their families and learning the Dharma by becoming a Novice, there is the added benefit of receiving a better education than would be found in their villages. Wat Pha-O is well known within the Luang Prabang Buddhist community due to hosting a yearly meditation retreat for hundreds of Monks, Novices, Nuns and lay people.
GVI’s teaching has begun at the commencement of the academic year, a wonderful opportunity to measure the growth of the students’ English abilities. Students have been organized into 6 classes of approximately 25 students per class for 5 afternoons per week, 2 hours per day. This is a significant increase in English tuition compared to the Buddhist Secondary School in the heart of Luang Prabang where the students only receive 1.5 hours per week English teaching due to a low capacity of English teachers on staff.
GVI Laos continues to work with awesome local teachers to deliver quality English lessons to our students. Always striving to build strong local relationships and make the Teaching English projects in Luang Prabang sustainable for the long term, it seems our teachers are doing quite well on their own too!
Peng Khamkong, a teacher who has partnered with GVI now for about 2 years, most recently at Xayadeth College and Wat Na Luang temple, is currently awaiting his Bachelor Degree from the Teacher Training College (as reported in this blog post). However, in the interim Peng has received an award from his college as the best student in the class! The accolade comes with an award which was quickly laminated and displayed with pride alongside his GVI certificates for professional development, and the soon to be received Bachelor!
Good work Peng! You’re terrific :) Laos needs more teachers just like you!
Can’t believe it’s July already – well, except that it’s really hot, humid and the river levels are creeping higher up the banks daily! We’ve had a big, dynamic first half of 2012 with continued growth, success and always new changes on the Laos programs. The rest of the year looks set to have loads of exciting new things too: • Field Staff departing after approximately 15 months in-country and new staff coming on-board with their ideas • A Construction Project to commence mid-August • Our Charitable Trust alms-giving Challenge will run from 20th – 24th August to raise much needed funds for the newly expanded aims of the Charitable Trust in Laos • An expanding range of temple schools – we’re continuing on at Wat Pasaviet (a staple fave of past volunteers!), the novice primary school Wat Mano, our village temple Wat Na Xang, along with an exciting new partnership with a brand new novice school at Wat Pak Ou. Keep an eye on the blog for updates as we kick off the next academic year there in July. • New partnerships with Lao teachers, along with extra training and professional development opportunities • The new 6 month Internship on the Teaching Children program will kick off in the third quarter! • A new combination volunteering option, partnering projects in Thailand and Laos along with some awesome side trips....Laos is looking at a cooking course and an off-the-beaten path waterfalls and villages trip. Keep an eye out for the start of that one late in 2012. A BIG 6 months indeed! GVI Laos continues to be a success with volunteers, students and our Lao community partners, and we’re proud to say our achievements and developments keep mounting. Watch the blog for exciting updates over the coming months to learn all about GVI Laos in 2012.
The Laos academic year runs from August/September through to June. Summer programs for English are frequently offered by many schools, whilst other students, including trainee teachers, happily graduate from their courses with diploma or bachelor in hand! GVI works with the community to offer English tuition year-round and to support both students and teachers over the vacation period. This year looks set to be a big summer!
Endings came in the form of examination periods at several schools. GVI had a significant role at several partner schools, including Xayadeth College (3 year diploma course), Wat Mano (temple primary school for novice monks) and Kok Gniew (primary village school). GVI assisted over 300 students to take their assessments, writing and marking test papers and moderating the exams. Year 5 students at Kok Gniew achieved excellent results considering their short time in an English program, achieving an average of 61% with a top score of 80%! Well done to all the kids from kindergarten to year 5.
GVI was honoured at Kok Gniew Primary School with a traditional blessing ceremony, known as a basi, accompanied by traditional Lao dancing performances, singing and a hosted lunch. It was a wonderful day for volunteers, staff, students and Kok Gniew teachers alike. Even the Village Headman dropped by to pass on his sincere thanks for GVI’s work, and welcome us back in the new academic year in September.
It was also graduation time! Five of GVI’s Lao teaching partners celebrated their graduation with a Bachelor degree from the Teacher Training College. Laden with gifts they had some serious celebrating to do before the task of finding permanent teaching roles either in Luang Prabang or in their home villages.
Finally, we commenced the summer period with the start up of short term English programs across three partner locations. Volunteers will be kept very busy with the fun teaching program of new beginners! GVI Laos wish our dozens of graduating students well, and aim to continue supporting the graduating teachers through further professional development opportunities, such as the all day session upcoming in July!
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GVI Charitable Trust Manager