2018 GATN Site Sampling in Luang Prabang

Every year GATN conducts a site sampling program to introduce new sites for international service trips, cultural exchanges, study trips for sending YMCAs. Through this program, hosting YMCA can showcase their community, culture program, heritage place for the purpose of the various type of tour and sending YMCAs can taste new sample site and program. During this Luang Prabang sampling, sending YMCAs and hosting YMCA could share their opinions, provide suggestions and recommendations for improving their programs to meet the expectations of each other.

This year, APAY showcased the youngest member of our GATN network. The Organizing Committee of Luang Prabang YMCA has been working hard to develop Alternative Tourism as part of their movement building and income generating project. This site sampling was held in 15th~19th June and was participated by program secretaries from Korea YMCA, Singapore YMCA, Hong Kong YMCA. Through 3 days of site sampling, they tasted how sweet Luang Prabang was.

                  <Most Beautiful temple in Luang Prabang 'Wat Xieng Thong'>                           <Conversation with Principal of Phanom Elementary school>

 First day, following the main street of Luang Prabang, we visited World Heritage place include Wat Xieng Thong, most beautiful and famous temple in Luang Prabang. City preserved their historic place and buildings well and architecture was influenced by Europe, colonial authorities in the 19th~20th centuries. That means Lao and Europe architecture style is mixed so their heritage is very unique and remarkable. It was a good time to feel the atmosphere of Laos culture. After this, we visited Phanom Elementary School and Orphanage connected with the Luang Prabang YMCA. The principal of school greeted us warmly. Phanom Elementary School has a plan to make their school as low-carbon school and give environment education to students. Luang Prabang YMCA will work together for this curriculum and the school will make a volunteer group for environment program that includes school gardening. In addition, the school hopes to improve its facilities for the better educational environment for the students.

The orphanage that we next visited was quite a big organization with 170 teenage orphans living on the campus. This facility is supported by the local government but they have limited resource for students. So they are interested to invite volunteers to teach the students communication skills and to build relationship with people.

                            <Longstanding tradition in Laos 'Morning alms'>                                                                 <With Longheo village people>

We woke up very early on the second day to watch the morning alms giving(Sai Bat). This is a longstanding tradition in Lao Buddhist culture. People build virtue by offering food to the monks, monks receives food in a life of non-possession and share this food with other poor people. After the morning alms giving, we traveled to Nongheo village. Nongheo village is a well-organized village community. When we visited village we saw them working together to repair village road. The children in the village welcomed us with happy smiles. This remote village is very far from the town  and has a problem with access to water. They need to improve the facility to store up more water especially during the dry season. They shared with us their need to build a second pipe and storage tank to get clean water from the mountain to the village. The villages also hoped to improve the facilities of the primary school in the village. The small number of students of this school comprise of children mostly left behind by young villagers who have moved to the cities or other places in search of work.  Most of these children are being cared for by their grandparents.

                                      <Enjoyed KuangSi waterfall>                                                                               <Reflection for making better program>

After conversations with the village leaders we ate lunch together, prepared by village people. We tasted ‘real’ local food and it was really good. We ended our second day with a trip to the most beautiful waterfall in Luang Prabang, the 'KuangSi’ waterfalls. The water was clear and transparent and emerald in color. Local people enjoyed swimming and diving in the waterfall. Our participants played in the waterfall, too. We don’t know from which country will next volunteer group come but everyone agreed that they must come to KuangSi waterfall.

On the third day we visited the Ban Chan Pottery village. We had a short tour of the village, the village school and the pottery baking site. The peculiar thing about the village is that despite its proximity to the city, the town's development has been delayed due to resistance of the villagers. Now they started to open their mind to strangers come into the village and they want to make a development of village slowly. This village has a drug problem among its young people and our host, the young leader of the pottery village, hopes to give a chance to those former addicts by teaching them how to make pottery. He hopes this skill will help them go back to normal life. Our participants also tried their hands on learning to make pottery. It was not easy to make but everyone enjoyed touching the smooth clay and spinning the flywheel.

                   <Visited Ban Chan Village 'Pottery baking' site>                                                                               < Tried to make pottery>

Through the Luang Prabang site sampling, we tasted many unique cuisines, cultures, peoples, histories, and service opportunities. It was a very fruitful visit and we enjoyed very much. The reflections we had every evening were really helpful for share about our expectations for Luang Prabang volunteer trips and various viewpoints for a volunteer trips. Recommendations from each other were good opportunities for developing ideas and improving the program. I am confident that Luang Prabang will be a good site for the volunteer programs (work camps or service trips), cultural exchange trips and others. Most importantly, through such programs we are developing a network of sending and hosting YMCAs with a commitment for a sustainable community and being responsible visitors.

After the GATN site sampling program, we conducted a few inspections on the volunteer service projects that had been carried out or were being carried out by the YMCA of Singapore.  In one rural village, the YMCA volunteers had installed a bio-sand water filter system for a primary school with no access to clean water.  Water from the bio-sand filter was also collected to be brought back to Singapore for analysis by a certified laboratory. In another village along the Mekong river, we visited a team of YMCA volunteers installing a solar power system to provide LED lighting and fan for classrooms in a primary school. On the way back, we also inspected few other schools to check if the solar systems installed in previous year are still in good running condition.

~ Jiyoon, LEE (GATN Intern)

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