Cause we've all got a lot to give
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 a whole range of children’s stories in the Lao language. Visitors can buy books that will be distributed to villages, or they can sponsor a whole book party for a rural school, an event that gets children excited about reading and learning. The “book store” display is helpful in guiding which are appropriate for who. For example, you can grab a 80,000 kip pack of six books ideal for a rural village, beginner reader or as a tip for a waiter. We’re especially fans of giving out their books on hygiene and nutrition when travelling in rural Laos. Books cost US$1-3 and are wonderful to have if you’re heading into small villages—please, give books instead of lollies.
A popular programme is their daily 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. This is a great way for visitors to 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 perfected 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 towards the Mekong; T: (071) 254 937.
The family has expanded. Started in 2017, Big Sister Mouse seeks volunteers to teach English and lead educational games at a school/learning centre 15-minutes outside of Luang Prabang. Students range from age 3 to 22, and it is a full day commitment, a shuttle leaving the Big Brother Mouse office Monday to Friday at 09:00, returning at around 16:30. Lunch is included and they ask for a contribution of 100,000 kip towards fuel and food, though it is not mandatory.
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 new or 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.
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. The whole country has almost no libraries, not even inside 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 centre 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. Donate towards providing a child with a bicycle and uniform, a costly necessity without which a child cannot go to school.
One hugely important project they run is the Laos Girls Teen Project. Education on female hygiene and reproduction is virtually non-existent in Laos, which has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Southeast Asia. This project trains educators on how to teach young girls about normally taboo topics like menstruation. With government approval, they’ve published an illustrated book about puberty and becoming a teenager. It takes just US$5 to sponsor one book and a hygiene kit. Find the Luang Prabang Library on 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. Another option is to donate with them at the Luang Prabang hospital outside of town.
Blood drives are also held once a month at the Lao Friends Hospital for Children (LFHC) visitor centre. The Friends Without A Border paediatric hospital was opened in 2015 and now provides free medical care for 20,000 children annually and has a neonatal unit and surgical theatre, a remarkable feat in a country where children continue to die from highly preventable and treatable diseases. Funding was jump started by the first Luang Prabang Half Marathon and now the annual event, which takes place one Sunday every October, continues to be their important financial boon. So if you can’t personally donate, sign up for the run and fundraise.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you'll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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