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Volunteering in Luang Prabang

  • sianbevans

    Joined Travelfish
    8th July, 2012
    Posts: 4

    Hello,
    I'm looking to spend 6 months in Luang Prabang from April next year. I'm a teacher and would like to volunteer teaching English. I've found a few organizations online but many charge thousands of dollars. I don't mind paying if I know the money is used correctly and the experience is worthwhile. I'd like to hear from anyone who has volunteered or any suggestions on trustworthy organizations.
    Thanks for your time :)

    #1 Posted: 8/10/2012 - 04:26

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  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
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    Try the Organic Mulberry Farm.

    #2 Posted: 11/10/2012 - 19:45

  • christay2009

    Joined Travelfish
    8th February, 2009
    Location United Kingdom
    Posts: 414
    Total reviews: 4

    You can volunteer at Mekong English Centre for free. Volunteers assist a Lao teacher. They can help explain word meanings if the teacher is unsure, read power point slides, drill pronunciation, hang out with students. At least one week commitment preferred. Classes mostly in the evening after normal school.
    http://www.mec-laos.org/

    I can vouch for GVI Laos too. I had an amazing experience in Luang Prabang with them. It was expensive but totally worth it for me.

    I know that travel to teach also operate in Laos (or did do) and they are a more affordable option compared to many of the others out there.

    When I was in L.P it was possible to find some casual work teaching hotel staff English but I am not sure if this is what you're after. These don't seem to be openly advertised either.

    PM if you have any questions

    #3 Posted: 12/10/2012 - 07:50

  • christay2009

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location United Kingdom
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    Oh, one more thing... are you a qualified teacher?

    Could you teach in your home country? ... CELTA? ... TEFL?

    #4 Posted: 12/10/2012 - 07:52

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 954

    Good points in your last post Christay, though the op did say she was a teacher. I am sick and tired of unqualified voluntourists doing untold damage. By the way in my opinion Travel to Teach is a very suspect organisation.

    #5 Posted: 12/10/2012 - 22:18

  • enday

    Joined Travelfish
    12th September, 2012
    Posts: 30
    Total reviews: 6

    Rufus, I am curious about what voluntourism damage you are referring to?
    I can use my imagination and common sense to think of quite a few possibilities, but I wondered what your experiences are?
    For Sianbevans, I would suggest looking for something where you work with adults. I think volunteering with children would potentially be too stressful for them, *unless* you are entirely professional in your teaching role (ie. not emotionally involved) and long term. Perhaps working with children is what Rufus is referring to??

    #6 Posted: 13/10/2012 - 01:30

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 954

    I am actually referring to both. In the case of kids, a lot of the orphanage voluntourist schemes are scams. Further even with the legitimate ones it is extremely stressful for kids to biond and then see the volunteers disappear.
    Working with adults? Are you sure you are not taking away a job that locals can do. The other thing to be aware of is that unqualified people can do a lot of damage in teaching and in medical fields. I have seen some appalling lesson plans in English that just simple teach incorrect information or teach it badly. If you are not a qualified teacher, don't volunteer to teach.

    #7 Posted: 13/10/2012 - 22:39

  • sianbevans

    Joined Travelfish
    8th July, 2012
    Posts: 4

    Thank you for your responses.
    I hope to work with an organisation that in some part offers free English lessons to high school students/novices. Travel to Teach appears to offer such classes but I'd like to know your concerns with this organisation Rufus? Have you had dealings with them?
    Thanks for your time :)

    #8 Posted: 14/10/2012 - 01:42

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 954

    You are possibly aware that to work in Thailand or Lao, even as a volunteer. it is required for you to have a work permit. TtoT does not supply work visas nor does it help volunteers to get them. This means the volunteers are in a situation where they are breaking the law. Yes it is unlikely that they would get arrested, but it is possible. TotT has been asked to respond to this on a number of occasions; they ignore the requests.
    Further, look at the teacher resources on the TtoT web site. They are a joke. If that is really what is taught, God help the poor students.

    #9 Posted: 14/10/2012 - 21:41

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 954

    I have twice contacted the T to T people in the last few days in order to get clarification on the visa issue. The first time I received a very rude reply; the second email was ignored.. This is further evidence that Travel to Teach is an organisation that should be avoided. The Ministry of Education here will be interested to know of their activities.

    #10 Posted: 16/10/2012 - 20:41

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  • enigmatic

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 84
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    Quote:Working with adults? Are you sure you are not taking away a job that locals can do. The other thing to be aware of is that unqualified people can do a lot of damage in teaching and in medical fields. I have seen some appalling lesson plans in English that just simple teach incorrect information or teach it badly. If you are not a qualified teacher, don't volunteer to teach


    The one thing I've heard pretty consistently from English teachers overseas (especially the qualified ones) is that qualified foreign English teachers frequent lack basic English speaking ability - and also is that the quality of lesson plans in Asian schools is usually damaged more by the textbook imposed above than the teacher. I'd rather have my kids learn from someone that knows the language well and can't teach than the reverse. And to put it politely Laos isn't leading the region in English speaking ability. It's not like volunteering as handymen or farmers where it's universally acknowledged that the local labour you're undercutting is more competent.

    Completely agree that it would be mad to teach in Laos without the right visa; the police will find you and fine you and the fine will be equivalent to several months local salary (feel free to speculate what happens to it)

    If I was going to Laos for six months I'd be tempted to check out the opportunities available locally on a tourist visit first and return having arranged a proper visa in Bangkok, assuming that's not too difficult. I can see the appeal of arranging things in advance but at the same time can't help thinking that fees like $96 per extra week seem to be well in excess of reasonable accommodation expenses.

    #11 Posted: 22/10/2012 - 04:42

  • christay2009

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location United Kingdom
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    Rufus has made some great points and i'd like to add some of my experiences;

    One thing I would say regarding VISAs. The VISA office in Luang Prabang knew full well I was there volunteering and they know who GVI and what they do. As does most of the community in Luang Prabang. They are actively involved with temples and local schools as well as with other community projects. There were no issues with Visas nor have I heard of any issues from other volunteers. I am just stating what I have experiencef and have heard - I do not know the legality of it.

    As for taking away jobs that locals can do. When I was there, we worked with local teachers in some schools. I believe that more of the classes are conducted in partnership with Lao teachers. The volunteer simply assists as much or as little as the school/teacher wants. There are classes where only volunteers teach students.

    As far as I'm aware the teaching that occurs at temple schools is often the only English teaching they receive outside of the main "monk school". Essentially, It is supplementary, focusing more on using the language they have learned in regular class. GVI also funds several novices (selected by their Abbot) to attend MEC private classes with a Lao teacher.

    #12 Posted: 22/10/2012 - 06:23

  • moniqueshan-
    ae

    Joined Travelfish
    2nd December, 2012
    Posts: 7

    sorry to jump onto this but you guys seem to know alot about teaching aboard so I thought I may as well also ask for advise on this post... I'm a current student teacher (secondary in english and history) and will be travelling to Laos and Thailand throughout Jan and Feb and was hoping to be able to get involved in some sort of volunteer work but am also unsure about websites that advertise such for alot of money... any advise or organisations I should turn to being that I will be already in the country? I would have thought for such a short period of time that visa wise it wouldnt be a problem ? but honestly I havent really looked into it that deeply ...

    #13 Posted: 2/12/2012 - 21:50

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 954

    In both Thailand and Lao you need a visa to volunteer, else you are working illegally. The on line organisations, well all that I have contacted, do not supply the appropriate visa or work permit, or avoid the issue entirely. (Business visa for Lao).

    #14 Posted: 3/12/2012 - 18:03

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 132
    Total reviews: 5

    Moniqueshanae: if they're asking for significant amounts of money by western standards, that's very suspect. I know schools in towns here that would like to have a western teacher but can't afford to pay a salary that would attract one (around 1000 USD seems to be the bottom). There are also ones that cannot attract native english speakers so take on fluent but non-native speakers as their foreign staff.

    In LPB there is a place called Big Brother Mouse that's western-founded but Lao-run. Local high school/uni students, guesthouse workers, etc., come in the morning to practice with native speakers. Actually I met some nice locals at this place, though there seem to be plenty of volunteers to keep up with the demand (if you show up late generally all the students are accounted for). People there also introduced me to local (actually a bit out of LPB) high school English teachers who were glad to get some conversation practice in. In fact they invited me back to stay for a few weeks, so clearly they find value in it. They also sell Lao/English books that can make good gifts for people met in other areas. I think pronunciation is the main thing that you can help with because phonemes in languages here are distinct from ones in English, so physically encountering someone who can pronounce correctly can be helpful (if you study asian languages you can see that this is true as well). If you do this in an adjunct way, you're not competition for the locals, and students see learning English (and probably Chinese for the future) as a means to a better future so you're doing what would be considered "good karma" in Asian cultures.

    Also keep in mind that in Asia (and basically anywhere else) there's a distinction between what the text says is "illegal" and what's "de facto" illegal - for example in Thailand the law says it's illegal to teach private English lessons, but friends have taught private English lessons to the local police agencies who were glad for the opportunity (and paid in cash!). You might keep a low profile if you're doing this (even on a volunteer basis).

    Similarly, friends who are successful and fully law-abiding guesthouse owners in Thailand have been visited by immigration police numerous times, after being snitched on by jealous competitors. This is another reason you might want to avoid those organizations, as their higher profile and monetary prospects makes them more likely to be snitched on/turned into authorities, on the grounds that by performing successful (or in some cases operating a scam, which is rampant particularly in Cambodia) they are "stealing" from the local economy, an irrational way to view things. Since you aren't conducting monetary business this may not be such an issue. It also wouldn't be an issue in a more remote place, but in somewhere like Chiang Mai or LPB it might.

    In more rural parts in Laos you can find signs in tourist agencies saying, "if you are a native English speaker the local school would love to have you visit and help with lessons". The local gov't are fine with this in the places I was in. Longer-term would be difficult or impossible, however. Also, if you go off the beaten tourist track, or even in LPB or Vientiane, you'll probably meet people/students who would like to practice their language. Also the more remote schools have English teachers, and they'll be interested in talking with you. Hint: people here like it if you're well-dressed and presentable since "appearance is everything" in the cultures here.

    I bet if you check out Big Brother Mouse that would be a good start. Just go. Good luck to you.

    #15 Posted: 4/12/2012 - 05:52

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
    Posts: 954

    " The local gov't are fine with this in the places I was in."
    This is an extremely dangerous proposition and I would ignore it. In the last few months there have been a number of cases of "volunteers" being escorted from the country due to religious proselytising.

    #16 Posted: 4/12/2012 - 18:23

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
    Posts: 954

    As far as Big Brother Mouse is concerned:
    I assume you have some understanding of the Lao language and the particular linguistic difficulties Lao have in English. You are aware of how to frame lessons to specifically target these weaknesses? You also have a good knowledge of Lao culture and the things that particularly interest Lao people. There is no point in having a conversation about US film stars or baseball as these concepts are meaningless to Lao. You would be aware of "dos and donts" in Lao culture and incorporate these principles into your conversation class.
    The student population of BBM is transient. So, how do you cater for the conversational needs of the students in a 2 hour class where even if you teach a couple of times a week, the student population will be different? How have you structured your conversational classes to say, meet the needs of those involved in tourism, in government administration, in the banking sector etc etc? What vocabulary do you concentrate on and introduce? What methods do you use to introduce new vocabulary? You are aware that a 2 hour random class with random teachers can offer contradictory information. If you had volunteered for 3-4 classes a week over a say 6 month period, that would be a valuable experience provided you followed the guidelines I mention above and planned your lessons.

    #17 Posted: 4/12/2012 - 19:12

  • enday

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 30
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    I must say I'm pleased that religious proselytizing is not tolerated.
    About conversational classes at BBM, one of the topics the students brought up was how they have difficulties with different accents of the volunteers, something worth considerating if you know you have an accent that people you have encountered before have had trouble with.
    One thing I found students were fascinated by when they spoke about minority groups in Laos, I told them about Australia's minorities and the the (very, very brief) history of Australias Indigenous population. Indigenous was written down and pronunciation and meaning eagerly checked and discussed by the guys in Lao before referring back to me to ask questions.
    it's conversional, if you're generally empathic you'll likely be some help
    Also someone above said that there were plenty of volunteers, not the case when I was there

    #18 Posted: 4/12/2012 - 22:36

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
    Posts: 954

    "it's conversional"
    "I'm pleased that religious proselytizing is not tolerated."

    That is a great typo! :-)

    #19 Posted: 4/12/2012 - 22:46

  • enday

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 30
    Total reviews: 6

    hahaha, thanks for pointing that out! hilarious

    #20 Posted: 4/12/2012 - 23:03

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 132
    Total reviews: 5

    enday: So you really think that religious proselytism/meetings should be treated as a criminal act? Sure the Jehovah's Witnesses/7th day adventists/evangelical Christians/Catholics/etc can be annoying and imposing, but treating that as a criminal act seems like an absurd measure of authority. Particularly in a country with widespread rural poverty like Laos. You'd think if the gov't were really interested in helping the Lao people they'd be welcoming religious groups rather than kicking them out. I know it's bad manners to bring up politics at the dinner table, so to say, but I'm surprised people here seem to support that.

    moniqueshanae and the rest: if you're not directly competing with locals, (and at a place like BBM or the informal rural volunteer options you're not), but instead offering complementary service, I can't see you having a problem. They kicked out a number of expats in the north (Luang Namtha and Udomxai regions) a couple of years back (and "disappeared" locals who were involved with them), but I think they were missionaries or tangentially involved with political activities. A longer-term volunteer option seems trickier though. But in this part of the world, with personal connections like talking with people (what Chinese call 'guaanxi'), the sky's the limit, which is why I suggest just going if you can't find something decent online.

    #21 Posted: 6/12/2012 - 07:16

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
    Posts: 954

    " Particularly in a country with widespread rural poverty like Laos. You'd think if the gov't were really interested in helping the Lao people they'd be welcoming religious groups rather than kicking them out."

    What a curious comment. What on earth does Laos' poverty have to do with religion? Do you seriously think these religious groups are alleviating poverty? Here have a copy of the bible and you won't be so poor! No, these groups are here for their own ends - to spread the religion in which they believe. They believe it is their moral imperative to do this.
    Re BBM you have clearly not read or understood anything I posted. no, you won't get into strife, but what good will you do? How prepared are you? How much help do your students really get?

    #22 Posted: 6/12/2012 - 18:15

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 132
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    Rufus - Religious groups as group are the biggest charities on the planet, which is what poverty/starvation has to do with them. They do a lot more than handing out books.

    Actually, I think it would be difficult to do worse than the SE asians' idea of English education from what I've seen in Laos, Thai, and Myanmar, which is to talk at non-English-speaking students, in English, year after year, and wonder why they don't learn the language. Actually more organizations like BBM would probably be a good thing so, given your self-considered expertise, perhaps you can start one up - or maybe the whole English teaching thing is a scam, as some claim, and we/they should be learning Mandarin Chinese.

    OP, I hope you won't let what's being said discourage you from pursuing your dreams.

    #23 Posted: 7/12/2012 - 01:12

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
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    " Religious groups as group are the biggest charities on the planet, which is what poverty/starvation has to do with them. They do a lot more than handing out books."

    What precisely do they do in Lao?

    "given your self-considered expertise, perhaps you can start one up"
    Hardly self considered as I have post grad qualifications in language training and over 30 years experience in the field. Further how in your limited sphere of knowledge do you know that I have not already done this?

    #24 Posted: 7/12/2012 - 20:33

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
    Posts: 954

    Oh, and if you say religious organisations teach English, then be aware that in a great many cases this is linked to attendance at religious services, "We will teach you English if you come along to such and such." The arrogance of such religious organisations in promoting their own religion over the existing beliefs in a country is staggering.

    #25 Posted: 7/12/2012 - 21:37

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 132
    Total reviews: 5

    Agreed that the bad kind of religious missionaries can be arrogant and destructive of culture (to use the term MADMAC can't stand), but I don't think this justifies treating it as a crime, "disappearing" locals and kicking out the rest. Obviously they don't do anything, at least in the open, in Laos/China, except on the underground. Anyways the prohibition on religious meetings is motivated by other political factors so your point is moot. Sometimes beliefs mesh well with existing ways, such as Islam in Malay/Indonesia and Catholic/indigenous syncretic religion practiced in the Amazon. But the OP mentioned nothing about religious proselytism so this is off topic.

    So, as a language training expert with 30+ years of experience, do you take a similar stand against idiotic teaching practices used in Chinese and Thai (and presumably Lao) classrooms, namely speaking in the foreign language at students who can't understand, then wonder why they don't learn the language after years of practice?

    #26 Posted: 7/12/2012 - 22:46

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
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    " "disappearing" locals" evidence please. Can you provide concrete evidence that this has happened, not just hearsay?

    "Anyways,(sic), the prohibition on religious meetings is motivated by other political factor" Such as what? Can be specific instead of making cryptic posts?

    "speaking in the foreign language at students who can't understand, "
    Actually speaking in the foreign language is called the immersion system and works well if done properly. As far as what happens in China and Thailand, I couldn't care less. I live in Lao; Lao is what concerns me. Fyi some language teaching here is poor, some is good.

    #27 Posted: 8/12/2012 - 19:57

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 132
    Total reviews: 5

    "Can you provide concrete evidence that this has happened, not just hearsay?" The "disappearing" case was in Northern Laos, against one of the operators of the Boat House in Luang Namtha. As far as arrests and imprisonment of Lao/Thai Christians in Laos, that's easy to find by google on the Human Rights Watch site and other Asian news sources; similar repression against Muslims takes place in China whose CP is closely connected with that in Laos, and the laws and arrests follow the same pattern.


    "Such as what? Can be specific instead of making cryptic posts?" The arrests are made under "gathering without official permission" laws, which are in effect impossible to obtain according to people interviewed. The "permitted" religious organizations in China are ones that are "politically assimilated", ie: aligned with the CP. As MADMAC pointed out previously, one-party states by definition maintain power by strict control of political/religious activities. That said, it's not as bad in Laos as, say, the ethnic "cleansing" of Rohingya Muslims in Arakan state of Myanmar.


    Back to the OP, I hope this is clear that this is a side discussion and shouldn't heavily impact what you're planning on doing.

    #28 Posted: 8/12/2012 - 23:56

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
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    Why do you keep mentioning China? I told you I don't give a fig what happens in China.
    Where is the evidence for this person in Luang Namtha?

    #29 Posted: 9/12/2012 - 02:29

  • moniqueshan-
    ae

    Joined Travelfish
    2nd December, 2012
    Posts: 7

    before you continue with your discussion ...

    just wanted to say thanks guys for your earlier comments :)

    #30 Posted: 9/12/2012 - 20:43

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 132
    Total reviews: 5

    Rufus. You can read about Somchai's disappearance, and in discussions involving politics in Northern Laos the relevance of China is clear if you can pull your head out of the sand for two seconds. Just google "luang namtha disappearance". It's surprising that you can have such an arrogant and condescending attitude and lack the basic ability to conduct a google search. And you consider yourself an expert.

    #31 Posted: 1/1/2013 - 01:34

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 954

    Rofl. The only things I found were
    "http://laomeow.blogspot.com/2010/01/luang-namtha-province-transport.html"
    www.rescuechristians.org/
    From a biased Hmong website or from a biased Christian website. No evidence at all was offered. If these are the sources on which you rely it is no wonder that your posts are drivel. Post about things you know something about - mind you this would be a very small list.

    #32 Posted: 1/1/2013 - 19:33

  • somtam2000

    admin
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    At least 113

    Here's a few links related to the disappearance of rights activist Sombath Somphone:

    Channel News Asia
    Irrawaddy
    Asian Human Rights Commission

    This kind of thing has happened in Laos before, notably when environmental activist Sompawn Kantisouk (associated with the Boat Landing Guesthouse near Luang Nam Tha ) vanished. He disappeared a few years ago now, but a quick Google Search found this report in the Asia Times.

    Lets keep it civil please.

    #33 Posted: 1/1/2013 - 19:45

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