Volunteer In Laos
All you need to know - Laos:
When you volunteer in Laos you travel to the breathtaking Vang Vieng between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. You can choose from different volunteer projects, all aimed at improving education. Prepare for a real non-profit experience with an amazing positive impact. You work as a volunteer with our team that is recognized as INGO by the local authorities, getting recognition as INGO is not common in Laos.
Flanked by much larger neighbors like Thailand and Vietnam, Laos is easy to overlook. Laos is a small landlocked country of six million people. The country rarely makes headline news in the international press, and the core of Lao culture still remains untouched by modern Western influence. However, its cultural traditions, friendly people and natural beauty are becoming more popular since the country opened its doors to tourists in the early 1990s.
The Lao Government has recognized the importance of diversifying the economy away from subsistence farming, and in recent years Laos has made slow but steady progress in alleviating poverty. Far from the dynamic growth of neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, the Lao economy has nonetheless moved forward on the back of garment manufacturing and logging. Tourism and foreign trade have also expanded and spurred the country to look beyond its borders after decades of economic and political isolation. It joined the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997 and has continued to strengthen its traditionally strong relationships with China and Vietnam. Foreign aid from international organizations and governments has facilitated investments in different areas, including communications and transportation infrastructure, education and health.
However, Laos remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The population is largely composed of subsistence farmers. The education system is poorly developed and health standards are very low. Child mortality rates are among the highest in the region and many people are still not using an improved water source. Although primary health care facilities have reached most areas in recent years, malnutrition remains a serious problem, as do diseases like dengue fever, malaria and measles. HIV/AIDS prevalence in Laos is relatively low, but the country’s proximity to Cambodia and Thailand, where there are much higher infection rates, makes HIV/AIDS a growing threat.
The destruction of the environment is another serious problem, particularly considering that Laos hosts the richest ecosystem in the Indochina peninsula. Forests covered 70 percent of Laos in the 1940s, but that figure has now dropped to below 40 percent.
Laos is a single-party Communist state run by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). While there are conflicting views within the party on economic reform, democratization and foreign affairs, the LPRP remains a largely unified body holding tight control over all aspects of government and society. Except for the Hmong, who are for the most part isolated and living in the mountainous areas of the north, political dissidence is restrained and largely based overseas.
While urbanization in Laos has been slowly expanding in recent years, only 34 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Most of the population remains rural. Even the most important urban centers, including the capital, Vientiane, maintain a rural feel.
The country’s inhabitants are comprised of many different ethnicities and ethnic groups. The 2005 census identified 49 ethnic groups. 55% or the population was Lao, 11% Khmou and 8% Hmong. Ethnic tensions exist particularly between the government and the Hmong, who live in isolated communities in the country’s northern mountainous regions.
Tensions between the government and the Hmong reached a high during the Vietnam War when the anti-communist Hmong collaborated with the CIA as part of a Secret War that devastated Laos. After the war, fearing persecution, many of the Hmong fled to Thailand and western countries, including the United States, Australia, France and South America, as refugees. The heavy shadow of Vietnam War tensions continues to mark relations today, and the Hmong cause continues to be highly controversial and almost taboo within Lao society.
Although the Constitution puts forth safeguards for human rights, abuses are widespread in Laos as there are few legal restraints on Government actions. The justice system, like most aspects of Lao life, is controlled by the Government, thus making it difficult to demand accountability and transparency in legal disputes and trials. Local mass media are tools for government propaganda, and political dissent is not tolerated in Lao society. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly expressed their concern for Hmong refugees, particularly those who have been repatriated to Laos from Thailand and are allegedly being held in relocation sites and refugee camps against their will.
The development of commercial mining, hydroelectric facilities, commercial plantations, industrial manufacturing and deficient public sanitation have all contributed to deforestation, soil erosion and the pollution of Laos’ many rivers and lakes; and hunting and illegal trading are negatively affecting the country’s wildlife. Laos also suffers from regular heavy flooding, which increases its reliance on foreign food aid each year.
About Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng embodies the enormous potential of Laos. Endowed with a breathtaking natural landscape and fertile soil, Vang Vieng is holding onto its agricultural roots while opening itself up as an international tourist destination. Vang Vieng is a small rural town with less than 25,000 inhabitants strategically located half way between the two most important cities in the country: Vientiane, the capital of Laos and its main center of political and economic activity, and Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the heart of the Lao tourism industry. The number of tourists visiting Vang Vieng has multiplied in the past five years, and the local government has taken important steps to manage the growth in a way that benefits the poor and contributes to the conservation of the environment. Most notably, the government has implemented a town master plan calling for sustainable and environmentally responsible development.
However, limited resources and high levels of poverty mean that significant challenges remain. While community-based tourism has potential to reduce poverty by creating jobs and empowering locals to harness business opportunities, most people in Vang Vieng have been left out of the tourism boom. Nearly 20 percent of them remain below the poverty line. Additionally, tourism in Vang Vieng is having a negative impact on the local environment. The added waste generated by visitors is overwhelming the already strained waste disposal systems and contaminating fields and rivers. Of particular concern are grey water and solid waste. The former, which is wastewater generated from household uses like bathing and dishwashing, is widely dumped into the Nam Xong River, and the latter, which largely comes from households and small businesses, often ends up strewn over the town’s fields, forests and wetlands. The pollution has serious implications not only for the environment but also for the economy, food security and health of local communities. Children often play near garbage and open sewage, and soil contamination negatively affects agriculture output, which threatens the local food supply. Additionally, the dirtying of the local waterways, which are depended upon by the local population for everything from bathing to cooking to spiritual ceremonies, threatens the traditional way of life in the area.
Projects In Laos
When you apply, you can choose which project you prefer. All tasks are within the same location, it is a “team” in which you as a volunteer are part to accomplish something great. Therefore, we hope that you will be flexible in order to achieve this goal. We try to take your wishes into account, but in Laos everything can suddenly change (e.g.: spontaneous local celebrations, holiday, …). Our local team and ourselves usually don’t have the power to control this, so we might ask you to change your focus.
Please note that the descriptions below are only meant to be a broad overview of the work. Remember, volunteers work where circumstances can change suddenly. Flexible, open minded and fast switching are crucial features of a good volunteer abroad. It is the role of each volunteer to adapt to their project and not the other way around. We expect volunteers to contribute where necessary, even if that means being involved in activities that they did not expect. Being able to adapt is challenging, but it also makes volunteering abroad so special.
We expect our volunteers to be able to work independently. Remember that you cannot always rely on the local people every second of the day. You go to Laos to help them, it’s not the other way around.
While there are significant efforts to improve the quality of education in Laos, serious problems persist, including an insufficient number of qualified (and motivated) teachers, deficient school infrastructure and low student enrollment. These problems are visible in Vang Vieng, a small community where the growing tourist market is demanding skills such as English speaking ability. The failure to communicate with foreign travelers is the most significant obstacle for locals in search of decent jobs in the tourism sector.
The education project connects resource-poor schools and our own training center in Vang Vieng with volunteers so that the students can obtain valuable English language skills. Additionally, volunteers bring new ideas and perspectives that promote cross-cultural understanding.
The educational project connects poor resourced schools and our training center with volunteers, so that students can acquire valuable English language skills. In addition, volunteers bring new ideas and perspectives that promote intercultural understanding.
What do volunteers do?
Volunteers work three to five hours a day teaching English to children between 5 and 17. Many of the classes are overcrowded, and it is not uncommon for 40 students to be in a class. As the level of English of some teachers can be very low, volunteers should expect a high level of independence
in designing classes and leading them. Volunteers teach together or, if needed, on their own.
- We offer after-school English lessons in our own school under our own management. Children and young people who are not in de possibility for extracurricular activities can go to extra after-school activities for lessons with a prospect on later employment
in the tourism sector.
- English is part of the primary school curriculum. The problem is that not every primary school has an English teacher. We assist local teachers in primary school so that as many children as possible are introduced to English. These lessons are a big challenge because the target group is still young (between 7 and 10 years old) and English is very limited.
- Sometimes other schools also come to ask for help, such as the local “college”. When we have enough volunteers we also try to provide them with.
Minimum : 2 weeks
Project schedule: Year-round. Depending on the time of the year and the assigned schools you teach at daytime or in the evening.
Teaching training is not necessary, we ask that you have the following characteristics:
- At least an advancde level of English.
- The creativity and initiative to lead classes with limited resources.
Donations and fundraising are used for building and renovating schools. Tasks can include painting, plastering, painting, concrete preparation and pouring, ceiling, …
We cannot guarantee that you can contribute to a project, because 1) you work alongside the local people who spontaneous work at their school without any detailed plan, 2) whether enough funds are available during your presence.
The only way to be sure of construction or renovation works is to provide funds yourself. Why not looking for fund by yourself and expand this project in the field? Aside from working in the field, you also create awareness in your network. This should be done in advance in consultation with us, so that we can record this with the Department of Education. After all, we work together with them and don’t just start something for them.
Minimum : 1 week.
Project schedule: Year-round. Depending on available fund
Take into account that the climate in Laos and the limited facilities can weigh heavily on physical work. You must also take into account that the available work materials (if they are already available) do not have the same quality as you are used to, creative thinking is a plus.
Our Local Team In Laos
As Operations Manager, Sai is responsible for the administration, and believe us in Laos there is a lot of administration due to the very complex bureaucracy, so you will see Sai with a lot of trouble. He is also responsible for managing school building projects, but also for business development.
Feel free to invite Sai to have a beer, he certainly doesn’t say no.
Vocational & Center Manager
Kham graduated as a primary education teacher. He is responsible for our training center, but also for our cooperation with the official education departments and schools.
Kham likes to play the guitar and likes to take his songs into the classroom. Who knows, you might write the next hit with Kham..
As Sai’s wife, she takes care of the volunteers like a real mother. Boun daily prepares the delicious meals, all volunteers praise her cooking skills.
Join Boun while she is cooking and return home as a talented Laotian cook.
Our Volunteer House
When you volunteer in Laos you live in a cozy and comfortable house in Vang Vieng. You stay in a single or shared room with maximum 1 other volunteer. Each room has its own private bathroom with showers and flush toilets.
Bed sheets and towels are provided. All rooms have fans, windows and electricity plugs. There is a phone for emergencies and free WIFI. The living room, which is on the first floor, is a popular spot where volunteers eat, relax and socialize.
Purified water, is available at no charge in the kitchen. The house is a 5-minute walk from the town center where you can find many conveniences like banks, bars, coffee shops and restaurants.
Meals At Our Volunteer House
Lao cuisine is unique and very tasty, and you can expect to eat very well during their stay. Every day, you will be served breakfast, lunch and dinner. The cook at the Volunteer House prepares a wide range of dishes for the volunteers.
- Breakfast: Breakfast is mostly Western-orientated, with a Lao dish from time to time Depending on your work schedule, you eat breakfast alone or with other volunteers.
- Lunch: Lunch typically includes a main dish featuring noodles, fish sauce, spring rolls or sticky rice with chicken, beef or fish. Depending on your work schedule, you eat with other volunteers or at your project. Please note: If you are eating at your project, you will either take a packaged lunch or supplies, for example bread, tuna and vegetables to make a sandwich, to your project.
- Dinner: Dinner is similar to lunch and is an important time when you come together with other volunteers to relax, socialize and share stories.
Volunteering in Laos is more than just working. You cannot compare voluntary work to a full-time day job. You will have full say in your hours and have enough time to explore the area together with the other volunteers.
You live in a stunning semi-rural location. Distinctive karst hills impressively rise from lush green forests crisscrossed by rivers and streams. There are caves and rice paddies to explore. Nearby lagoons and a waterfall offer great opportunities for refreshing dips.
You can partake in many outdoor activities, including cave exploring, hiking, kayaking and rock climbing. You can also experience a typical tourist activity in Vang Vieng: lazily inner-tubing down the river and making stops at the small villages along the shore. In town you can enjoy a fun and laid-back scene.
There are bars and restaurants serving Lao and international foods, and you can stroll past Buddhist temples, colorful textile shops and open-air markets to mingle with locals. Besides all of this our team will take you to local weddings, festivities, …..
Volunteering abroad does cost money and it is not our intention that the community you are going to help has to pay for this. If there was enough money to bear these costs, we would rather spend them on a local employees who understand the local culture and daily customs.
If you want to learn more about our transparent system, take a look at our transparency page.
Accommodation & Meals Cost
These costs, which you pay on site, are related to your stay in Laos such as your accommodation and meals. By paying locally, you are also sure that your contribution will end in Laos and will not stay behind at various “stations”. If you are a group consisting of more than 5 participants, please contact us first, there might be other conditions. Housing is affordable because we rent a house with a few rooms and a fully equipped kitchen. The cost at the volunteer house is only €105 a week. Furthermore, you will also receive numerous additional benefits when volunteering.
What is included?
- Local costs and preparations for your work;
- 3 meals a day (Monday to Friday);
- Your stay in a comfortable home;
- Daily follow-up, guidance and cooperation from our local team;
- Washing machine;
- Unlimited access and use of our kitchen.
Other Possible Costs
Probably there are other expenses that you have to keep in mind. Below a brief summary of the most common possible costs:
- Transport to and from Vang Vieng;
- Drinks other than water;
- Drinks and meals during weekends and public holidays;
- Travel insurance;
- Transport and income during free time;
- Visa (30 USD for 30 days);
- Extra snacks;
- Although you have a bicycle available for all nearby projects. Some construction projects take place in a remote area (about 25 km). The cost of this transport is carried by the volunteer. Contact us for the possibilities.
any projects require a continuity of volunteers to create impact and we want to ensure sufficient inflow of volunteers to keep every project viable. Unfortunately volunteer recruitment comes with a costs such as marketing. The fundraising done by the organizations in our alliance are exclusively used for development projects in the countries mentioned on this website.
The alliance fee serves to bear the costs of the alliance’s platform. We ask every participant a one-time alliance fee of € 130. This is a one-time contribution which you pay after being accepted for your first volunteer placement. After payment of this contribution you can do unlimited voluntary work in any project in the future (if there is availability and you meet the set requirements for that project).
As a member, we always inform you as soon as new projects are added in our alliance.
What is your alliance fee used for?
- Despite of our good intentions, we are also obliged to pay taxes. After this the balance is used for: annual costs for the management of our platform such as the maintenance of the registration database, administration …. We try to minimize these costs, but we have to cover them. We also have a great looking website that needs to be maintained and kept up-to-date.
- Promotion costs money and we want to be visible as much as possible so we find enough volunteers for each project. Your contribution is also used for promotions on various media, printed materials etc. Besides this we also try to attend as many fairs & network events as possible.
- We are only volunteers and put a lot of effort in our projects but also in your preperation. In the past we had volunteers not showing up which is very disturbing to our team and local communities that we support. We also view this contribution as a form of guarantee that you will actually fulfill your commitment.
You can read more at our transparency page.
Preparation & Guidance
We will not let you leave without a thorough preparation. We have a detailed system, so you can sleep on both ears and leave with peace of mind. Once you have been accepted and everything has been put in order, you can count on the guidance of our experts.
As soon as you applied and you are accepted to volunteer we start with your preparation. You can already read a lot on this website, besides this we also prepare you through other channels. Once in the field you also can rely on our local team.
Volunteering abroad will have an impact on you but also on the local community. We think it’s very important, that you as a volunteer are aware about what to expect. So you can start prepared with your volunteering experience. When you are accepted as a volunteer and you confirmed from your side, you will receive the access codes for our secured volunteer page. At this page you can read all information which is important for your preparation, Such as information about your project, accommodation, How to apply for your visa, a packing list, a complete chapter about cultural differences and much more …
You will be assigned a mentor who you can contact for any help or needed advice. Our mentors are members of our alliance and have years of experience in the projects we support. This system ensures that you receive good guidance from VAA.
Your safety is very important to us. We only allow volunteers to travel to areas that are politically stable. If this is not the case, the project will not proceed. Every member of the alliance keeps a close eye on the security recommendations. Of course, we can also rely on the local employees of the projects. They live and work there themselves and know the area very well.
Vang Vieng has a tropical climate with an annual recurring monsoon. The weather is hot and humid throughout the year. With temperatures between 13°C (winter nights) and 40°C in summer. The monsoon runs from June to October. Keep in mind that it may occasionally rain during the other months. The wettest months are August and September. No matter what time of year you go, take long pants and a sweater for the cooler nights. During the “dry” months, take a light raincoat with you for the exceptional showers.
Every project has at least one permanent employee. This employee organizes your project and your stay together with the participating organization of our alliance. During your stay you can always connect with them; they are available for advice and practical information, but you can also count on them in case of an emergency.
You will receive a detailed route description, once you are accepted as to volunteer in Laos. Here you can read everything to reach Vang Vieng and more
specifically our volunteer house.
In the past we had problems with sharing our operations address therefore we deliberately not share this information in advance. The organizations within our alliance take their duties seriously, our projects are not tourist attractions and we do not want uninvited guests to disturb our operations. Moreover, it is very disturbing for the local employees of our alliance but also for other volunteers if someone suddenly appears at the projects to take a look.
We are not doctors and we do not know your personal & medical background. That is why we advise everyone to make an appointment with your doctor or travel vaccination center before traveling to your destination. You can always take a look at the website of the WHO for the latest situation in Laos.
Every organization within our alliance has an emergency procedure and you also receive all emergency telephone numbers once accepted as a volunteer. You will find all this information on your personal project page, you will receive the code as soon as you are accepted as a volunteer and you completed your application.
You need an international passport for Laos. You can always arrange your visa upon arrival at most border crossings and at the airport. Visa costs change from time to time but you can assume that a visa costs you around $ 35 for 30 days (tourist visas). You can always extend your visa in Laos. On the secured project page you will find all the detailed information for your visa.
There is no typical day or script to follow – every day will be different and full of surprises. That is the beauty, but also challenge, of international volunteering. We expect you to understand this and be flexible, open and proactive at all times.
The projects run Monday through Saturday and Sunday are usually free days. Depending on your project, you will work some combination of different hours during.
There are always new initiatives being launched and other volunteers looking for a helping hand. The projects are very dynamic and responsive to the community’s needs, and we encourage you to be flexible and willing to help wherever there is need. It is very likely that you will have the opportunity to work across multiple projects. Remember, the more you put into your experience, the more you will get out of it.
Our team speaks English but learning a few basic concepts in Laotian is always easy at work, but also in dealing with the population. We have a digital course with audio on our secured volunteer page, there are volunteers who manage to speak Laos in a matter of months. You have access to these files when you are confirmed as a volunteer.
All organizations active in the alliance take their work very seriously. From general preparations to details that you never imagined that they exist, but that are important to give you a safe, comfortable and meaningful experience. We invest a lot of time in preparing, following up and implementing our preparation materials, but also our projects on site. We hope that you, for your part, commit yourself 100% during your volunteer work and this is done in a respectful way for us, but even more so for the local community you are going to help.
- Volunteers are not tourists. Volunteers cooperate and serve the local population while tourists want to be served. We expect you to adopt an open, flexible and proactive attitude. After all, these are the most fundamental characteristics of a good volunteer.
- Volunteers are not employees. You will be shown the direction before and during your voluntary work, but you will not receive the same training as an employee receives. We expect you to ask questions, offer your help and engage in the execution of your project work.
- Kindness and being positive are very good qualities. You will meet many people during your volunteer work. Good social qualities are the key to success for good interaction with others. The best volunteers are those who build a good relationship with the people they work with. Take every opportunity to build a relationship of trust, even if there is a language barrier.
- You stay and work in a developing country where life is completely different from what you are used to. Do not expect to find the same efficiency, punctuality and structures that you are used to. Being open minded and adapting to new situations are the most fundamental qualities of a volunteer. Do not expect that you will get a written scenario. Every day will be different and you can come across different situations that you did not expect on your path.
- You may have taken a vacation to do volunteer work. However, keep in mind that a “volunteer holiday” does not exist. Volunteers enjoy their work and enjoy themselves during their free time. However, volunteering abroad is not easy. It can be very challenging and some days seem like an exercise in managing frustrations. It is all part of the experience so patience and a positive attitude are good qualities for a volunteer.
- You are not going to change the world. As long as you fulfill your duties in a responsible manner, you will be part of the team and will have a positive impact on the local community.
- Be humble and open to learn. You may have overwhelming ideas, qualities, talents and knowledge to share. The local population also has a lot to offer.
- You travel to a new country where the smallest parts of daily life differ from what you know. Try to understand this and do not judge it too quickly. The culture of the community you are staying in is no better or worse than in your hometown, it is just different. Turn off your blinkers, open your heart and you will feel comfortable even outside your own comfort zone.
- During your volunteer work, and especially during the preparation, you will receive a lot of information about the projects, living facilities, daily life, etc. Circumstances can change unexpectedly. Local needs may cause you to perform tasks other than planned. You must understand that the duties of a volunteer are based on local needs and not on you personally. It is your responsibility to adjust, because you are going to give and not to take.
Daily behavior when you volunteer in Laos
- Dress appropriately and in consideration of the local culture. Women especially, you may have to dress more conservatively than you are used to at home.
- Follow the local laws and remember, corruption and poor government services are the norm in Laos.
- Abide by the cultural norms and rules of your hosts. Look to them for social cues and if you have a question, ask. Do not be shy!
- While we will not babysit you, we expect you to follow the instructions and rules set forth by us and our local partners. We also expect you to be a good communicator who is friendly and respectful to us and our team. Whether something is going well or not, tell us.
In our alliance we always ask the volunteers to do volunteer work by week. At some projects it is already possible to volunteer for one week, but it is also be possible that a minimum placement of a couple of months is required for certain projects. You can read this at the projects chapter of the chosen destination.
When Can I Arrive In Laos
In Laos you choose which day you arrive.
What is the minimum period to volunteer in Laos?
Volunteering in Laos is possible from 1 week.