Photo: My Library provides a space to foster learning .

Giving back

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There are several organisations in Luang Prabang quietly doing good work on the ground to help those most in need. Here’s how to give back a little something to the town.

In a country where books are an absolute luxury, Lao organisation Big Brother Mouse publishes children’s stories in in the Lao language. Here visitors can buy books that will be distributed to villages, or they can sponsor a whole book party for a rural Lao school, an event that gets children excited about reading and learning. Books cost US$1-3 and are great to have if you’re heading into the countryside — please, give books instead of lollies.

Eschew plastic and help My Library at the same time. Photo taken in or around Giving back, Luang Prabang, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Eschew plastic and help My Library at the same time. Photo: Cindy Fan

A popular programme is the daily practise-English sessions where travellers from all walks of life can drop in (no need to reserve) and converse with locals eager to practise their English and learn about people from around the world. In turn, visitors will gain insight about life in Laos. The programme is especially popular with local students and novices and we’ve met several people in the hospitality industry who told us they learned all their spoken English from these Big Brother Mouse sessions. They are held every day (except holidays) from 09:00-11:00 and 17:00-19:00. You don’t have to bring anything, but pictures of your family or country are great conversation starters. Find the office in the peninsula, Ban Vat Nong village beside 3 Nagas Restaurant. On the main street, turn at 3 Nagas in the direction of the Mekong; T: (071) 254 937.

Emphasis at My Library isn’t only on books or English studies. My Library provides a unique space that fosters learning. Since 2003 it has been an evolving experiment for local students to study anything, from computers, cameras and software to conducting science experiments, learning Japanese and editing films on Final Cut Pro. This project is making incredible strides to stoke scientific curiosity and fuel self-study. If you have a used digital camera or laptop in good working condition you can donate, they would be put to excellent use. Send a gift on their Amazon wish list. Drop by and refill your water bottle for just 2,000 kip. Or plan ahead and bring a donation of microscopes, science kits, puzzles and thinking games. Find My Library in Ban Aphai, beside popular backpacker bar Utopia.

Why not treat yourself here after giving blood? Photo taken in or around Giving back, Luang Prabang, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Why not treat yourself here after giving blood? Photo: Cindy Fan

Those who have grown up in the developed world probably think nothing of visiting the library and borrowing books. For Laos it’s a foreign concept. There are almost no libraries, not even in schools. The Luang Prabang Library (not to be confused with My Library or Big Brother Mouse) is part of Community Learning International, whose projects include running Learning Centres in rural districts and reaching remote villages on the river with their book boat loaded with books for children to borrow for the day. Stop by the library and buy US$2 Lao books for the book bag — once it’s full, they are are given to schools for kids to borrow. You can also donate towards providing a child with a bicycle and uniform, a necessary and costly necessity without which a child cannot go to school. Luang Prabang Library is on Sisavangvong Road (the main street) across from Wat Mai.

A completely free way to give back: Give blood! Giving blood save lives in Laos and hospitals have less than they need. The Lao Red Cross has a blood donation centre and the process is safe and sterile, needles are used once and discarded. Most people are eligible to donate if they are: fit, healthy and not suffering from a cold, flu or illness at the time of donation; had a minimum of six hours sleep the previous evening; are aged between 17-60 years; weigh more than 45 kg; and have eaten something in the three hours before donating. The centre is located in Ban Visoun (opposite Wat Visoun), in the same building as the Lao Red Cross Sauna and Massage, an easy walk from the backpacker area. Open Mon-Fri 09:00-12:00, 13:00-16:00. You can also donate with them at the Luang Prabang hospital outside of town.

The cuteness is near unbearable (sorry!). Photo taken in or around Giving back, Luang Prabang, Laos by Cindy Fan.

The cuteness is near unbearable (sorry!). Photo: Cindy Fan

Also check out the UXO Lao Visitor Centre and Free the Bears Laos.

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