Laotian Smile

The smiles of Laotians and Cambodians are just unbeatable

Hi, I am Kata from Hungary. I came to Laos to work for DVV International in May for a three-month internship. It might not seem like a long time since I arrived, but I already feel I have covered a lot of ground and had the chance to gain a deeper insight into the significance and practicalities of adult education from different perspectives. Since DVV International works on all levels – macro, meso and micro – it provides a really unique opportunity to engage in both top-down and bottom-up activities, and develop a holistic understanding of the challenges and opportunities characterising adult education.

I had the opportunity, for instance, to travel to a beautiful district of Laos, called Luang Prabang to assist one of DVV’s expert trainers to conduct a training for teachers in a Non-formal Education Support Centre. The intensive preparation beforehand and then actually conducting the workshop was in itself a fantastic learning experience, where we were applying methods of an inclusive and participatory approach to non-formal education. Beyond the broadening of our understanding about methodological questions, however, the encounter with the rural Lao population gave us a chance to discuss and share ideas on education and its implications in their everyday lives. Their stories were about pride and excitement to learn and a thirst for self-development. This need for growing appeared as a personal need as much as a necessity to take over responsibility for the development of the participants’ own communities.

Another time, we were visiting the NGO Education Platform in Cambodia to discuss opportunities on how to further develop our Community Learning Centres (CLCs) in the two countries. More than 30 NGO leaders came together to share experiences and best practices during a visit to one of the most successfully implemented local CLC projects. This project took place in a village where 80% of the people haven’t finished primary education and 90% of them had no access to clean water and sanitation. Given the challenges faced, the CLC came up with a truly integrated approach to engage and educate the community, also in a financially sustainable way. This building provided a space for literacy classes at night, sport activities and tournaments on the weekends, and agricultural and livelihood trainings in the afternoons. We visited this isolated community two times, where children, women and young men were crowding the CLC’s library, volleyball court, and terrace to socialise, read and learn.

An evening literacy class in Cambodia

Many of my experiences gathered here allowed me to see certain challenges in their actual context, and helped me understand that every community is different, with varying needs, capabilities and levels of engagement. Therefore, it takes a great deal of practice, devoted attention, patience, as well as trial and error to find a solution with the community that meets the needs of the people, respects the environment and others, and is sustainable in the long run. In such a solution, wealth enhancement can take place, built on the capacities of the people and their relationships.

DVV International really provided me an opportunity to do just what I wanted: work directly with people in areas that are meaningful to me, and where I can contribute my little share to create a positive change. Besides the diverse tasks that need to be done in the office or on the field, I feel that there is a lot of space for creative ideas or new initiatives if someone wants to add something. Everyone is heard, and independent thinking is valued, which is quite a unique feature, I found, at a workplace.

Laos in general is not the most dynamic of the Southeast Asian countries, but there is a lot to learn, especially when it comes to leading a balanced and stress-free life. People eat well, and take care of their families first and foremost. The border line between private and work life is blurry: colleagues are friends and family, who eat, play and work together, and whose personal issues are of everyone’s concern. If you want to experience a lifestyle far from the Western ideal, Laos is definitely a place to go. I have to admit that it was not at all easy to get used to this slow-paced life, but it is absolutely worth the experience, and I have undoubtedly and utterly grown from it.

Previously, I worked for the Human Rights Commission in Hungary as an environmental policy advisor, and was engaged in a sustainability project concerning a marginalised community in Costa Rica. I started off as a biologist, and after my internship here I am going to study peace studies in the United Sates. My objective is to learn mediation and facilitation in order to be able to create dialogues and platforms for exchange that are fruitful and inclusive, and that are able to bring together people of various interests and needs to solve common problems. I believe that my work experience here, with the people and communities of Laos and Cambodia, has been driving me forward to achieve just that. I am very grateful to my boss, Mr. Uwe Gartenschlaeger, for providing me this invaluable opportunity.

The author

Kata Fodor started a three-month internship at the DVV International office in Laos in May 2015.
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