Southeast Asia Encountered

Season’s Report 2018

A massive THANK YOU for joining us in Laos this summer. We know it’s not always easy to find the time and raise the funds.

Please enjoy reading about your 2018 groups’ achievements as this will give a more complete picture of the vast amount of assistance that you have given to the local community through your generosity.

And a special thank you to Kirsten, Benji, Sophie and Nick who have been a fantastic team to lead our volunteer projects in 2018.

Elephant Conservation Centre - Sayaboury 2018

The main ECC construction project this season was to build a massive new socialization area for the elephants spanning more than 1400 meters in size and taking up an entire valley. The goal of this area is to give the elephants space to be with each other with no human interaction so that herds may be formed, and bonding of elephants achieved. Two areas were to be cleared of vegetation and dug out to a flattened surface to make room for new observation platforms. These platforms will ensure that the ECC staff will have locations to oversee the socialization progress being made by the elephants that are placed in the new area.

Teams 1 through 4

The volunteers cleared 1400 meters of forest to make a path for the electric fence poles to be installed and then dug holes every 5 meters for the poles to be placed, each hole a half meter deep.

We then installed more than 280 fence poles over the season with one day a week committed to a perimeter hike to clear regrown vegetation and repack the poles to make sure none would be loose in the soil. -The final pole was laid at the end of program 4 and this project was completed.

Teams 5 and 6

We cleared vegetation in two different locations that oversee areas of the valley, each area spanning around 8 by 8 meters in diameter. Soil was then dug out to make a flat surface for the foundations of the platforms to be later built. One platform foundation was completed at the end of program 5 and the other completed at the end of program 6.

Group 1

Conservation - Elephant Conservation Centre

Group 1 was extremely lucky to be the first group to catch a glimpse of some of the 13 new elephants. These 13 will slowly be incorporated into the herds that volunteers interact with so every time we see them it is helping them to become more socialised. As we had many Biology and Science students, great questions were being asked of myself, Mr La (our guide) and Annabelle (the resident biologist). This showed interest and a willingness to get involved!

One group got more than they bargained for when they had to carry bags of elephant poo from the jungle to the centre for analysis. These were both heavy and smelly but the group found it comical – making the job easier. We had an unprecedented amount of injuries which began when Stephanie fell off a bridge on the first day. We all laughed about it but the joke was on us when she got to bathe in the lake beside the elephants!

Adventure week allowed us to see cultural side of Laos, as we explored the beautiful city that is Luang Prabang. It also allowed us to see the beautiful hearts of Alexa and Max when they bought two baby owls, Greg and Benji, from the market in Luang Prabang and setting them free in the forest of Mount Phusi. Sophie

  • Every morning the group walks into the jungle with a mahout to pick up their elephant from where they slept the night before, and then follow the elephant down to the lake for the first bath time of the day.
  • From this point we hike up to the observation deck of the socialization area, where five elephants at a time can interact without human intervention.
  • We visit a second deck in the treetops to observe the whole valley and any elephants seeking shade in the trees.
  • The volunteers then visit the hospital where the Vet Assistant provides a biology talk, and target training takes place, so they can experience the process the elephants go through to become acclimatized to the vets’ touch.

The 13 new elephants are still being integrated into the wider group and will continue to be; it’s exciting to witness this!

ECC Construction

We made excellent progress with the construction project being undertaken for the ECC this season. An entire valley will be a new socialization area by the end of summer and we succeeded in clearing over half the perimeter for the new fence line. Occasionally the elephants would use the new trail that we have been making and come right up to us while hard at work which led to many interesting moments and happy volunteers. Nick

WORK ACHIEVED:

  • Started clearing the perimeter for the new 1400 meters of fence line that will be installed throughout the season.
  • Clearing the perimeter consisted of digging up soil and existing vegetation
  • We achieved over half the valley cleared so far and have made excellent progress considering the difficulties (Location, terrain, heat).

Construction at Van Ban Soy School

The group was able to complete the refurbishment of the kindergarten. This include cleaning and removing all scrap and rubbish from within building. Preparing all surfaces for painting. And painting inside and outside of the kindergarten. The kindergarten is also now full of fantastic murals and education artwork, that has made the kindergarten a lot more aesthetically pleasing and a better teaching environment. Benji

  • cleaned school
  • removed all scrap from kindergarten
  • prepared surfaces for painting
  • painted inside and outside of kindergarten
  • painted the toilet cubical
  • painted murals and education art work on kindergarten walls

Before

After

Education at Van Ban Soy School

Being our first group of the season, all the volunteers this program did an excellent job! Everyone in education got on so well in teaching the children and assisting them with anything that was assigned to the kids.

As we had worked with this school in the past season, we reviewed lots of what had been taught a few months ago to solidify what they had learned, and we started introducing new words and actions. I loved how all the volunteers were very creative in ways to continue teaching and practicing with the children one on one if they finished before the rest of the group! This also allowed me a few minutes extra to prepare the next task or activity set up for the children. All the kids picked up each task and activity so quickly thanks to all your help.

At the beginning of the week, the students were reluctant to a new group of strangers in their school, but by the end of the week they were approaching everyone like we had known them for weeks. Dan, you were a hit with the kids in class with your background in acting and throwing out some silly actions which the kids adored. Group A taught the kids the Macarena in the morning recess period, which they were hesitant to join into. However, by the end of the week, they were approaching all of us to dance the Macarena with them. And ladies, your hair looked beautiful in French braids, buns and pony tails decorated with flowers from the children! Kirsten

WORK ACHIEVED:

We worked with three different grades, 5, 4 and 3. Each class would start with a quick introduction between volunteers and students. Afterwards, each volunteer would sit with a group of 2-4 students to work more one on one and to assist the children.

Group 2

Conservation - Elephant Conservation Centre

The weather might not have always co-operated, as it rained most days, but it did nothing to dampen the spirits of the volunteers. While each week we watch the 13 new elephants get integrated, the very last cohort of this group received a real treat when we saw the two new male elephants at the lake, one complete with full tusks longer than most of us are tall. It was described as the best experience of the whole trip by Ethan Brown, as it was truly once in a lifetime to be so close to a fully-grown male elephant - incredible! Sophie

  • Every morning the group walks into the jungle with a mahout to pick up their elephant from where they slept the night before, and then follow the elephant down to the lake for the first bath time of the day.
  • From this point we hike up to the observation deck of the socialization area, where five elephants at a time can interact without human intervention.
  • We visit a second deck in the treetops to observe the whole valley and any elephants seeking shade in the trees.
  • The volunteers then visit the hospital where the Vet Assistant provides a biology talk, and target training takes place, so they can experience the process the elephants go through to become acclimatized to the vets’ touch.

The 13 new elephants are still being integrated into the wider group and will continue to be; it’s exciting to witness this!

ECC Construction

Over half the fence line for the new socialization area has been completed. Amazing progress as it went at almost double the rate we thought it would be.

The previous group had cleared the forest for the new fence line to be built and this group completed roughly 600 meters of fence line and the next program will get close to completion if not finish the project outright. Nick

Construction at Ban Nonsavanh School

Awesome to be getting stuck into more renovations. Our project at this school is to build and furnish a new classroom. The new classroom will allow the school to hire another teacher and hopefully encourage a higher amount of student attendance. It was tough work at times due to the intense heat. However, everyone got their hands dirty mixing cement and shovelling dirt. To achieve our goal. The group was able to lay the framing for the new classroom, lay new walkway area at both the front and back of existing school building. And touch up the windows with a fresh coat of paint that will protect windows from elements and give the classroom at much better look. Benji

  • laid cement for extension of the existing platform at the front of the school and for a walkway
  • painted two coats of paint on windows
  • laid framing for the foundation for new classroom
  • installed concrete pillars for the skeleton of new classroom
  • cleared and prepared designated area for the new classroom
  • laid cement in foundation framing for new classroom

Education at Ban Nonsavanh School

This week we moved to a new school! We really worked on English basics and reviewed lots. We also introduced lots of new words and subjects to the students. I want to say a HUGE thank you to all the volunteers that came and helped these students learn English. We taught the kids transportation on the second day, and later reviewed it the fifth day. It was such a proud teacher moment when the students shouted out the correct answers to each flashcard and that was because of all your help, teaching them individually and helping them with their pronunciation!

A shout out to Gabby for keeping her clever kids occupied while we learned the days of the week. While most students were still learning the days, she realized hers were picking up the days quickly and getting quite antsy to move onto something else. Seeing this, she introduced a new hide and seek flash card game for the kids. Kirsten

WORK ACHIEVED:

Since it is now summer break for the students, we are teaching the grade 3’s and 4’s in a combined class

  • Review of the ABC’s
  • Phrases (What is your name? Where are you from? How old are you?)
  • Colours
  • Body Parts
  • Days of the week /months
  • Animals
  • Emotions (Happy, Sad, etc.)
  • Opposites (Tall, Short, Big, Little, etc.)
  • Clothing (Dress, Shirt, etc.)
  • Exams! • Lunch time • Prizes, games, drawing

Group 3

Conservation - Elephant Conservation Centre

The ECC is trying to introduce laying down as part of target training and the older elephants are not taking instruction well so when we saw the seven-year-old male Suriya lay down on command it was incredible to compare the difference in the relationship and trust an elephant can have with its mahout when they are together from a young age.

The older and newer elephants are going to take a lot longer to trust both their mahouts and the ECC vet staff! One group was treated to seeing an elephant running, something I had never seen before as Suriya cried while in the jungle and his mother Mae Van ran from the lake to check on him. It sent a few pulses racing to see an elephant charge!

  • Every morning the group walks into the jungle with a mahout to pick up their elephant from where they slept the night before, and then follow the elephant down to the lake for the first bath time of the day.
  • From this point we hike up to the observation deck of the socialization area, where five elephants at a time can interact without human intervention.
  • We visit a second deck in the treetops to observe the whole valley and any elephants seeking shade in the trees.
  • The volunteers then visit the hospital where the Vet Assistant provides a biology talk, and target training takes place, so they can experience the process the elephants go through to become acclimatized to the vets’ touch.

The 13 new elephants are still being integrated into the wider group and will continue to be; it’s exciting to witness this!

ECC Construction

Achieved getting through the most challenging terrain for the project and got even closer to our goal of completion of the new socialization area. The elephants are walking the new paths we have made now more than ever so each day every group got to see elephants walking by our worksite.

Completed over 75% of the project including spending half a day rechecking the entire fence line. The main goal is having it all done during the next program. Nick

Construction at Ban Nonsavanh School

This group worked super well on the project week. By the end everyone was amazing cement mixers. This program had some of the tougher tasks. The main goals for the week was to lay all the cement for the floor of the new classroom and hopefully start laying some bricks for the walls.

The volunteers smashed it out and by the end of the week had begun laying brick on 3 of the 5 brick walls to be done. The afternoon at the centre were some of the funniest. People had some workout circuits happening in some of the gazebos along with everyone having a go at the slack line. Benji

Completed items

  • laid cement floor for new classroom
  • completed cement walkway around classroom
  • began laying bricks for walls of the new classroom
  • painted the roof of outdoor area at school
  • mixed 26 bags of cement

Education at Ban Nonsavanh School

This week we studied hard on learning basic verbs. We decided to introduce a game to help the students learn the verb conjugations. It consisted of breaking them into teams of three, writing down the pronouns in various orders, then one by one they would come up to the board and tell the volunteer on their team what the proper conjugation was.

At the end we had two teams with the same amount of points, so we ended a tie breaker. We had the teams choose one student from each team to race the other in writing down the verbs the fastest. The children were ecstatic, and everyone was cheering on the two at the front! It was a great game that helped them learn while having fun!

This week we really focused on verbs and pronunciation. Throughout the week we introduced a few pronouns and once they were all introduced we brought in new verbs and short sentences to work off the nouns taught the day before.

  • Day 1 - practiced body actions such as “left arm up”, “right leg down”
  • Day 2 - Continuing with more body actions such as “backwards”, “forwards”
  • Day 3 - introduce pronoun “they”, “we” - introduce the verb “to be”
  • Day 4 - introducing the verb “to have”, “to be” - learning the question “can i have ...” and pairing this with classroom objects such as “pencil”, “pen”, etc
  • Day 5 - learn different weather nouns: stormy, windy, sunny, etc, learn a few occupations such as teacher, student, doctor, etc. - introduce verb “to eat”, “to drink”
  • Day 6 - morning review of the week - exams after recess break - lunch - exam prizes and arts and crafts! We had pipe cleaners and had the kids create bracelets and headbands.

Group 4

Conservation - Elephant Conservation Centre

Well this was a very muddy and slippery volunteer week! There wasn’t a single clean outfit left in the whole group. But the smiles remained, and everyone found the work very rewarding! What particularly impressed the team leaders was mom and daughter pair Estela and Kala from California. Estela was mother to all while also always being game for anything, and Kala’s passion for nature and kind spirit shone out of her. This programme, although being the largest, was one of the most diverse and close knit groups. Everyone was so supportive of each other and had a lot of fun. Several things of note occurred this group - Kirsten’s birthday, Canada day, 4th of July and the completion of nicks seemingly insurmountable task of creating constructing the new socialisation area. Massive props to him! Sophie

  • Every morning the group walks into the jungle with a mahout to pick up their elephant from where they slept the night before, and then follow the elephant down to the lake for the first bath time of the day.
  • From this point we hike up to the observation deck of the socialization area, where five elephants at a time can interact without human intervention.
  • We visit a second deck in the treetops to observe the whole valley and any elephants seeking shade in the trees.
  • The volunteers then visit the hospital where the Vet Assistant provides a biology talk, and target training takes place, so they can experience the process the elephants go through to become acclimatized to the vets’ touch.

The 13 new elephants are still being integrated into the wider group and will continue to be; it’s exciting to witness this!

ECC Construction

The new socialization area fence line is now completed and all that is required is maintenance on it in the future. One day over the next two programs will be committed to clearing the fence line of vegetation that has regrown over the time we have been gone.

The new project will be starting plantations and landscaping two areas for new observation platforms that will be built for future use.

Two volunteers that stuck out to me where Stella and Kayla, an amazing mother and daughter combo that kept everyone’s’ spirits up on the hottest day of construction and would race each other to dig holes faster. They were two of the most positive volunteers and were keen on every activity presented to them. Nick

Construction at Ban Nonsavanh School

The team did great work at the school. And by the end were expert brick layers and renderers. The group was a bit under the pump this week as I really wanted to get all task for classrooms walls completed so that over the adventure week the builders could put up the roof. Everyone rallied together to get the final bits of preparation and work done by the end of the week. The 4th of July celebration and Kirsten birthday at the blue lagoon was an absolute blast. By far the best time we’ve had at the blue lagoon the whole season. Everyone got in the spirit of the day. Listening to corny country music songs over a barbeque and outside in the beaming sun. Even though a majority of the group was from the UK or Ireland, I feel they still had a blast on the 4th July. Benji

Education at Ban Nonsavanh School

This week was very focused on verbs, pronouns and verb conjugations! Throughout the week, 20+ new present verbs were taught and practiced with the children at the school.

Day 1: - we reviewed some of the past vocabulary and learnt new nouns: things you’d find in a restaurant - we played a new game to help with pronouns and verb conjugation.

Day 2: - homework review and new verbs: to walk, to run. The ECC was kind enough to provide us with educational activity booklets, so we spent some time on these.

Day 3: -homework review and some new noun: vegetables and learning different times. Today, tomorrow, etc.

Day 4: - learning how to tell time digitally and chronologically. Ex: it is 5 o’clock. It is 5:15. The kids copied 4 clocks of different times off the board and had to write down what time they represented.

Day 5: Fun craft, making name tags to keep on desks and practicing spelling their names in English and some new nouns: rooms in a house.

Day 6: - morning review - Exams - Lunch - Prizes and crafts!

We had Canada Day and the 4th of July happen to fall during the two weeks. Most of the volunteers were from the UK, however, WE LOVED the effort put in by the volunteers to celebrate with the others from those countries! Mad love to all of you for making a girl feel right at home and celebrated for her birthday at the Blue Lagoon in Vang Vieng <3 the sun was shining, guitars strumming, songs a singing, slackers slacking and so much more. Benji

Group 5

Conservation - Elephant Conservation Centre

Rainy season being in full swing made the first couple of groups in this programme struggle in the first week trekking with the elephants!

I even had to add a new point to be won in my game - who has the most spectacular fall/who can fall the most. Sophie

  • Every morning the group walks into the jungle with a mahout to pick up their elephant from where they slept the night before, and then follow the elephant down to the lake for the first bath time of the day.
  • From this point we hike up to the observation deck of the socialization area, where five elephants at a time can interact without human intervention.
  • We visit a second deck in the treetops to observe the whole valley and any elephants seeking shade in the trees.
  • The volunteers then visit the hospital where the Vet Assistant provides a biology talk, and target training takes place, so they can experience the process the elephants go through to become acclimatized to the vets’ touch.

ECC Construction

An awesome effort from the two Aussies on program, Josephine and Kathlyn (right). They raised a donation of 300 AUD to give to the ECC, which will be used on various projects the centre is currently running include funding to purchase new elephants. Always amazing to see volunteers go above and beyond.

Fantastic hard-working volunteers that dealt with some crazy hot weather and on the opposite spectrum crazy rain as well.

New area was dug out and cleared for a brand-new observation platform to be built and utilized to oversee the elephants. Next group will work on doing a similar site on the opposite end of the valley.

During the ECC construction hike Jason offers to take the portable shelter to the site so that we can work and take breaks under it to avoid the extreme heat of the day (left).

Here we have Gulraj playing a game of rock, paper, scissors with one of the ECC kids. An outstanding volunteer who was always up for fun and hard work. The kids at the school loved him so much that he basically had his own soccer fan club with at least six of the boys there. When asked to carry the water jug to the construction site he jumped at the opportunity to test his endurance and give his calves a much-needed workout. Joking the whole way and making us all laugh on the hike, he got it done. His sense of humour and consistent entertaining presence will be missed by the tour leads. Keep being awesome Raj! Nick

Construction at Ban Nonsavanh School

This group was set with the task of rendering the inside and outside of the new classroom building. It was incredible to be able to finish this mighty job. As we are now down to the final stages of finishing the new classroom, great work team. Benji

Items achieved this program:

  • laid remaining bricks for walls of classroom
  • rendered entire inside of classroom
  • rendered entire outside of classroom

Education at Ban Nonsavanh School

This program was a very successful and eventful program. During our first week we had two birthdays! First was our dear Lucy and next, we had our sassy Ember’s birthday which we celebrated in style at Laos Laos Gardens.

And last but not least, during our adventure week, we took the group up to a look out on the top of the mountain in lieu of the hot air ballooning. While we were all taking in the fresh air at the top, Jason popped out and asked his beautiful Katie if he could take her hand in marriage. She said “are you kidding me?? Yes!” Kirsten

This week we worked on different English rules and adding more nouns into our vocabulary!

Day 1: We mostly focused on review from the previous group. At the end of the day we broke into teams of six and had a race and the team with the most points won a prize!

Day 2: Review from day 1 and homework check.

Day 3: Review/homework check

A new category game with four different written on a big piece of paper. Four volunteers held these papers up and one volunteer would show a flash card and the students had to run to the proper category. First in one big group, then groups of four, then on their own. Everyone ran to the correct category!

Day 4: The morning was particularly rainy, so we started out with crafts in the morning. They created different animals by using stickers, drawing, feathers, etc. And labelled all the things they drew in English and Laos.

Day 5: Homework check and review.

A new game with flash cards and a tennis ball. Volunteers and kids broke into small groups and went outside. The volunteers had flash cards and they would pass the ball to a child. The child who caught the ball had to say what was on the flash card.

Day 6: Exam Day!

We spent the morning reviewing everything from the week to prepare for the exam. - Quick break and then exam time! Out of 32 students we had 10 students get 100%!! And majority of students finishing exams with a 75% of higher! - After lunch we gave out the prizes – all donations from our volunteers. The kids were ecstatic and screaming for joy when we explained the giveaway! This included: new writing book, bubbles, a pack of crayons, a new toy, a new pencil case full of colours, pencils, sharpeners, etc. For the 10 students who had 100% they were called up first to collect their prizes and had the choice of a new item of clothing (shirts, hats, dresses) along with a necklace glow stick.

Group 6

Conservation - Elephant Conservation Centre

I don’t think anyone could always say they remained upright during my programme - no one came out of the jungle clean. A special mention goes out to Aoife who jokingly was banned from all further hikes in the programme for her own safety. She was rewarded for her efforts though, as along with Mairead as they got to witness cheeky Mae Bunam, the class clown, swim across the lake away from her mahout and climb the other side of the bank in search of greener trees. Imagine her mahouts shock to see her swimming away from the group! If that doesn’t prove elephants have their own personalities I don’t know what does!

THE MOST AMAZING THING happened to one of the groups who was lucky enough to witness an ultrasound of Mae Van, mother to Mr Suriya. She had been bred with a male 3 months ago and although she herself was not yet pregnant, we found out that Mae Kham On is! The whole centre celebrated as this could be the first baby born at the ECC!

Being our last group for the season, we had a very special experience at the school - a Basi, where the village elders thanked and blessed all of us for our hard work throughout the season. Seeing the school Benji and all the volunteers for 2018 built pretty much from scratch was incredible. What an achievement for VESA and every volunteer that has come join us in Laos. Sophie

ECC Construction

The volunteers faced a hot and rainy week of work but pushed through it and completed the new construction project. One lucky group had the pleasure of working within eyesight of Mae Khum Song, one of the biggest elephants in the ECC.

  • Cleared an area of around 8 by 8 meters of all vegetation.
  • Removed topsoil and levelled out the area to make the foundation for a new observation platform. It will be utilized to oversee the elephants in the area.
  • Hiked the perimeter fence line of the new socialization area clearing regrown vegetation and checking for loose poles.

This is Mae Khum Song, a very cheeky elephant who stayed in the valley all day during one group’s construction time. They really enjoyed her company and got distracted from work just to look at her more! Nick

Construction at Ban Nonsavanh School

We finished the work at the school and it is completely transformed. The school will now be able to hire a new teacher and allow more students to attend.

Spent most of the final week rendering the walls of the outside and then painting the base and second coats inside and out. Finally putting some creative artwork and educational murals inside classroom. Benji

  • completed rendering of inside classroom
  • completed rendering of outside of the classroom
  • painted outside of classroom
  • painted inside of a classroom

Education at Ban Nonsavanh School

As our final week for the season, we really worked on solidifying past lessons and expanding on those. We worked on our question works and learning new vocabulary on previous topics.

Day 1: - We spent our morning reviewing topics over the season. Homework: draw and label each shape with a different colour.

Day 2: - Homework review - Today was “when” day. Worked on questions to help understanding of when. Homework: translate English sentences to Laos.

Day 3: - homework review - Today was “who” day. Worked on questions to do with who. New vocab: classroom objects part 2 - Game of telephone with the class on the new vocab.

Day 4: - Today was “what” day. New vocab: shopping terms. I.E. how much? Too expensive! - Worked on a short shopping/bargaining scenario and presented at the front of the class. - Translations of Laos phrases to English. - Homework: review of verbs and pronouns.

Day 5: - homework review - Today was “how” day. New vocab: field items. (Grass, trees, puddle, etc.) - Craft time! Draw and create a landscape with as many items in the new vocab.

Day 6: - Morning was spent on review of the past week - Exam! Consisted of everything learned over the course of the week. - Prizes and donation giveaway!