Karen’s Sabbatical In Asia 2019

My sabbatical in Asia (Laos and Thailand) Jan, Feb, March and April 2019.

For the last three months, I have been volunteering abroad and what a wonderful experience it has been.

My first month was spent in Laos, Luang Prabang, where I was on a project teaching English. Even though English is my first language, I felt I should improve my understanding of English grammar before I went and so I competed a Tefl course (Teaching English as a foreign language) So with this under my belt and the extra training that was given whilst on the project, I hoped I could be of some use to the students of Laos. GVI (Global vision International) the group I had chosen to volunteer for, had several teaching projects in Laos, that I would be undertaking. I had opted for the Women’s Empowerment programme so I could help other women, improve their job prospects within Laos.

I was delighted when I heard I would be teaching at a Buffalo Dairy, where they made different Cheese’s from the Buffalo milk and not only Cheese, but some really, tasty natural ice creams; such as Lemon grass and Tamarind these were delicious with no artificial additives. Buffalo milk has a higher fat content than cow’s milk but a lower cholesterol level, making the cheese and ice cream, so beautifully creamy. – Which I can vouch for…

The Buffalo Dairy was a social Enterprise initiative where the local farmers rented their buffalo to the Dairy, who then put them in calf and used the milk to make this produce. Laos farmers found it hard to keep their buffalos, with the cost of food and vet fees and this rental system allowed funds to help with this. As well as local employment, staff where given English lessons, and this would help with their future employment and enabled them to become guides for the farm; explaining what happened on the farm to tourists.

As well as buffalo, they kept, chickens, ducks, pigs and rabbits, there was also a welfare element to this, as it helped inform locals and tourists on the husbandry of these animals. The Rabbit area was large with plenty of behavioural enhancement and visitors could go into the quarters to feed the rabbits with a local grass. All the animals looked so healthy.

Anyway my part in this was to teach the staff, English, working towards a script for them to show visitors around the farm, I was thrilled towards the end of my months where, I was able to take them out of the classroom and put their learned English into practice. I don’t know who was smiling more, me or them when they could see how far they had come and what the end goal was going to be. There were giggles of embarrassment, but I could see they were happy and looking forward to practicing more, to get it word perfect.

Looking at my own language whilst teaching it, I realised how many exceptions there are to the rule. This was a learning curve for me, as I not a teacher by profession. Any way getting it wrong sometimes, I found lightened the adult classroom as they realised even I, the teacher could get it wrong too.

I grew so fond and proud of my Buffalo Dairy students and my second lesson of the day was with local primary school children, who were so eager to have an extra English lesson they would walk to the Buffalo Dairy from school or home even in the school holidays. Everyone was so dedicated to learning.

In the afternoon, I had a group of college girls and in my evening class, I had ladies who were in employment, but who wanted to increase their chances of a better paid job and having improved English-speaking skills, seemed to be the route into these jobs. During these lessons, I covered English Grammar, C.V. and interview skills. All the lessons I did had to be planned to keep to a given aim and objective and GVI gave me these skills, in order that I could do my best.

My month in Laos was a busy one, with little free time Monday to Friday, however at the weekends I was able to explore and learn more about the culture of the Hmong and Khmu mountain tribes as well as explore the Mekong and Nam Khan river, along with watching local weaving, paper making and the wildlife in Laos. Tell you in my next blog.