Volunteer in Laos
As a volunteer 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.
✔ Population: 7 million
✔ Land area 237.000 km²
✔ Capital: Vientiane
✔ Language: Lao
✔ Munteenheid: Kip
✔ Human development index: 0,575 (141 out of 182 included countries)
✔ Life expectancy at birth: 66,2 years
✔ Illiteracy +15j: 28%
✔ 77% Proportion of the employed people lives on less than $3.10 a day
✔ Mortality rate at birth: 7,14%
✔ Mortality rate -5 j: 5,38%
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.
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.
Minimum : 2 weeks
Project schedule: Year-round. Afhankelijk van de periode geef jij les tijdens de avonduren of overdag.
Teaching training is not necessary, we ask that you have the following characteristics:
SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION & RENOVATION
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.
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 partner has the greatest difficulty in the world selling its products. They never received any proper training for this. You as a volunteer are responsible for motivating, training and guiding the local team to realize production and sales.
What do volunteers do?
As a volunteer you have to motivate, train and guide the local team to guarantee production and sales. Your duties include assisting the production process, developing new fruit products and of course sales and marketing. For this project we ask you for a flexible and VERY PATIENT attitude. Doing business in Laos is completely different than you are used to, the resources are limited. In all honesty we have to say that this project is one of trial and error and may have just fallen to the ground upon departure.
This project will always be combined with teaching English because there are periods when there are no business activities. You may not be able to get the project off the ground, which is no shame because you are in a developing country.
Minimum period: 3 months
Schedule: All year round
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 their own private bathroom with showers and flush toilets downstairs.
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, and there you can find many conveniences like banks, bars, coffee shops and restaurants.
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.
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, .....
Preperation & guidance
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 the transparency page.
Housing & Meals
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?
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:
We want to ensure that there is sufficient inflow of volunteers to keep every project viable, since many projects require a continuity of volunteers to make the project a success or to create sufficient impact. Unfortunately, marketing costs and volunteers recruitment comes with a cost.
The budgets that the alliance’s organizations raise are exclusively used to develop projects in the in development countries and we do not want to use these funds for volunteer work.
The alliance fee serves to bear the costs of the alliance’s volunteer platform. We ask every participant a one-time alliance fee (have a look at our transparency page for the latest information). This is only a one-time contribution for first time volunteering. 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 of course).
As a member, we always inform you as soon as new projects are added in our alliance.
What is your alliance fee used for?
You can read more at our transparency page.
Preperation & 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 already can 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 or 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.
Safety at your destination
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.
To your destination & welcoming
You will receive a detailed route description, once you are accepted as a volunteer. Here you can read everything to reach Vang Vieng and more specifically our volunteer house. 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.
Code of conduct of a good 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.
Daily behavior in Laos
In our alliance we always ask the volunteers to do volunteer work by week. At some projects it is already 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 page of the chosen destination.
When can I arrive in Laos
In Laos you choose which day you arrive.
What is the minimum period?
Volunteering in Vang Vieng is possible from 1 week. A minimum of 3 months is only required for the business project.