Lower Sixth Student, Jay Desai, writes about his February half term, working to help construct part of a new school in Laos
Leaving Heathrow’s Terminal 5 on Friday afternoon, we arrived in Bangkok on Saturday, local time 9.00am, going straight to Harrow International School Bangkok. We left our bags in our allocated dormitories and went for lunch with the Harrow Bangkok students at a local restaurant. What followed was an afternoon of sightseeing with the Harrow Bangkok students in Ayutthaya, seeing the ancient ruins and temple. In the evening we enjoyed a traditional Thai dinner, which was delicious, on a boat ride along the Chao Phraya River.
The following day we flew in to Laos. Arriving in Luang Prabang we met the ambassadors from World Volunteer, before traveling to the guesthouse we would be staying in. We left our bags there before going out to dinner in the evening followed by a visit to the night market, where we tried our best to bargain with the vendors. After a short sleep we were up very early the next morning taking a scenic boat ride along the Mekong River. Once off the boat we trekked through rice paddies and forest terrain for roughly three hours.
We arrived at the village we would be staying in at midday. We met the families we would be staying with and got settled into our home stays. In the afternoon we were driven to the work site where the World Volunteer ambassadors explained what we would be doing for the following two days. They informed us that we would be helping to build a dormitory for students who live in villages far away from the local high school and have to walk two hours every day to and from school.
After spending our first night in the village, getting used to chickens waking us up at very early hours, we spent the morning at the work site in the mud pits making mud cement. We went back to the village for a well earned lunch before we were driven back to the work site in the afternoon to lay bricks, shave bricks and plaster the walls.
In the evening we visited a local Hmong village where we met the village’s shamen who had lived through the Vietnam War and was rumoured to be around 200 years old. She told us more about Hmong culture, how she came to be a shamen and the effect of the war on her village.
The next morning we walked to the work site where we continued our work. We finished working a bit earlier in the afternoon which meant we had time to spend with the local school kids playing volleyball, badminton and playing games with skipping ropes. It was good for all of us to have some fun after the work we had done.
In the evening the village leader and our home stay families carried out a Baci ceremony giving us traditional food and tying strings on our wrists symbolising their gratefulness for the work we did and to wish us good luck for our futures.
The following morning, after an emotional farewell to our home stay families that we had become attached to only after a few days, we trekked through rain forest terrain to Kuang Si Falls. After eating lunch, we entered Kuang Si Falls and after a brief enjoyable walk we saw the waterfall’s main 60ft drop. We then went to a smaller pool where we were able to swim around in the fresh but freezing cold mountain water.
After drying off we visited the local bear sanctuary that protected Asiatic Black Bears whose species has been victim to poaching as their bile is a key ingredient for traditional Chinese medicine.
After a drive back to our guesthouse in Luang Prabang we spent the afternoon resting and playing cards before going out for dinner in the evening and making one final visit to the night market where we all bought a must have Laotian souvenir, elephant pants.
We awoke at 4.00am the next day to take part in Tak Bat Alms Giving where we gave fresh sticky rice to monks from the local monastery as their food for the rest of the day. After breakfast we visited the local monastery where we learned more about the lives of Buddhist monks and the meanings behind the poses and postures of the different Buddha statues, for example the Meditation Buddha is meant for people who wish for peace and calm in their lives.
Following a walk down many steep steps we visited the Unexploded Ordinance Information Centre where we learnt that Laos, although being a neutral country during the Vietnam War, was heavily bombed by the USA. After our final delicious lunch, we went to the airport where, after saying goodbye and giving our thanks to the World Volunteer ambassadors, we flew back to Bangkok.
After experiencing real Bangkok rush hour traffic we arrived at the Baiyoke Sky Hotel where we thoroughly enjoyed the buffet at the Crystal Grill Restaurant on the building’s 82nd floor for our final meal in Bangkok.
After a very emotional goodbye between us and the Harrow Bangkok students we had only known for a week, we returned to Harrow Bangkok where we spent one last night in the dormitories before departing early in the morning.
The experience was one we will never forget and I think I speak for everyone when I say it was beyond amazing to see people who have so much less than us open their homes to us. It definitely gave us a new perspective on our own lives and we would definitely recommend the trip to all students.