Tag Archives: development

Sok Dii Pii Mai – Monthly Update

13 Apr

Hello curious people! As much as I always have plans to write more, it never quite works out that way. Once a month looks like it’s all I’ll be able to do for the next little while.

The last few weeks have flown by with lots of things going on. Work has been really hectic with trips to Paksan, working on the fishway model, exhibiting the model at the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute symposium and working from home on upcoming work in Luang Prabang.

Working here in Laos has definitely been an eye-opener so far. The aid and development sector is very dynamic and confusing. It’s hard to know who the aid money and workers actually benefit. Is it the locals, struggling to make ends meet or the locals struggling to decide whether to they need an upgrade of their SUV. There’s also the aid workers themselves (myself included) leading relatively wealthy lives, sending their kinds to posh schools, hiring cleaners and gardeners to look after their every need, 7 days a week. There are definitely people here who do good and make a positive impact but it does feel that it could be done so much more efficiently and with much less fanfare. A lot of people give the excuse that everything is because of the communist government but I’m not as convinced. Yes, the government is certainly not perfect and has many issues but I don’t think they’re the cause of so many projects here failing.

I don’t want to become a “typical” aid worker though. Complaining about everything. I’m super-stoked to have been given this opportunity and am loving every bit of it.

Some updates:

  • I had a discussion recently with my Lao language teacher about the English words ‘crab’ and ‘crap’ and the difference between the two
  • One of my colleagues bought what I thought was a baby dog for his wife’s stomach as it was apparently some sort of secret Lao remedy. I promptly accepted this as fact and made a note to look it up online later on. Turns out it was in a fact some secrete Lao remedy. Not for his wife though but for his baby dog. Glad that one was cleared up before I made too many judgments. Language barrier wins again.
  • Had a fish bbq at Pak Peung village. The fish was really fresh. In fact it was still jumping after having lemon grass stalks stuck down its throat and placed on the grill.
Jumping fish

Jumping fish

  • Lao people love beer and they like to start you on it early. I’ve seen toddlers given a glass.
  • We saw a snake at the work site. The workers promptly split the snake in half (almost) and buried it alive. Slightly different to ecological practices in Australia but much more entertaining.
  • Calling roosters stuck in the trees all day with minimal water and food. Occasionally falling down and dangling from the string that keeps them tied there.
Calling rooster that lives in the tree (not by choice)

Calling rooster that lives in the tree (not by choice)

  • Many  highs and lows. The locals tend to throw rubbish down everywhere. As soon as a bottle or plastic bag have been used, they get tossed into a rough pile to be burned later on.
  • Animal cruelty is quite prevalent as well as love for animals and using up every last bit of a slaughtered animal in cooking and eating
  • There are lots of dogs in Laos. Like really a lot. Anyway, as well as seeing all kinds of wildlife (cows, buffaloes, pigs, chickens and ducks) along roads and highways just casually munching on grass, I also got to see what happens after dogs mate. They stay like this for about 15 minutes:
This will show my ignorance but I honestly thought these were some weird Lao conjoined dogs.

This will show my ignorance but I honestly thought these were some weird Lao conjoined dogs.

If you’d like to know why this happens then you can find out here.

Explaining the fishway model to the government minister (this was actually taken once he had left and took all the paparazzi with him)

Explaining the fishway model that I built to the government minister (this was actually taken once he had left and took all the paparazzi with him)

IMG_4220

The boss and I at the NAFRI symposium

Well, that’s it from me for now. Liz and I are off to Thailand in a couple hours for a 2-week holiday. 1 week in the city and 1 week at the beach should be a nice break from the grind.

Len

P.S. I’m half-way through my placement here which means that people back home should start planning/organising a ‘welcome home’ party.

Q and A with Kate Martin – Former Volunteer in Laos

29 Dec

So I know I haven’t been posting too much on my actual work here. In part because I’m still getting my head around what I will be doing while I’m here and in part because there is just so many other interesting stuff that I want to write about. However, I will try to tell you guys about my work here a little more and to start that process, below is a Q and A style email thread that I had with Kate Martin as I was getting ready to make the trip to Laos. Kate is the volunteer that I have taken over from while she takes a well-deserved holiday and comes back as a full-time employee in 2014.

A bit of background on Kate:

Kate was based in Vientiane for twelve months working as a Freshwater Fisheries Research Officer with the Living Aquatic Resources Research Centre (LARReC). LARReC is responsible for conducting research in the development of fish passage technology.

The aims of Kate’s assignment were to build capacity to develop and trial fishways. Kate  assessed the organisation’s core skills, developed training, procedures, guidelines, and a monitoring and evaluation system, and delivered training to staff. Kate also strengthened partnerships with existing networks.

Kate has a Bachelor in Applied Science in Adventure Ecotourism and, after working in the tourism industry for four years, decided on a change to working for Fisheries. Kate has worked for fisheries for the last three years and has experience in fishways, fishway assessment and social surveys. 

Kate applied for the program because she wanted to share her knowledge and skills, immerse herself in another culture, and learn from the life experiences that it has provided.

——————————————————————————-

[LB] How have you found your placement? It seems like this one is really well-developed with a large number of people working on the project from both Australia and Laos. I’ve heard some mixed responses in terms of these kind of placements. Nothing negative but some seem to be much more structured and organised than others. 

[KM] My placement so far has been great. The first couple months are a great settling in period, just be willing to get to know your colleagues. Having lunch and parties with them will make the transition a lot easier. The project is very much supported by Australia and a number of Lao organisations, so you will have a great support network. It is very well structured in terms of meeting deadlines etc. but there are still things that pop up in between that throw us off course and there will also be some down time. The best advice I can give to people is to take initiative during those times and provide training in emails, Powerpoint etc.

[LB] What is your professional background? How did you find the settling in period?

[KM] I actually studied adventure eco-tourism and found myself in fisheries. I have worked with Lee and the rest of the team in Australia for the past 4 years at Narrandera Fisheries Centre so I was very familiar with their work before arriving here in Laos. So the settling in maybe a little different for you as I just left Australia and was doing the some work here in Laos. Don’t stress there will be people here to support you if you are having difficulties. Also, there is an Australian guy based here in Laos who runs the ACAIR project. He will be your boss and will point you in the right  direction if things become too confusing or if you find that you are struggling a little. It is a very relaxed culture they don’t stress.

[LB] What have been the hardest aspects of the role?

[KM] Hardest part has been communication but you will pick that up as you are going and you will find the best way to communicate. Sometimes the project is hectic and things don’t always go to plan so you will have to think quickly on your feet during these times. You will get frustrated, I won’t lie, but that is all part of it.

[LB] What have been the best aspects of the role?

[KM] Best part is that you will learn so much in such a short time, you have a great time with everyone you work with and other people you will meet along the way. You will get to see a lot of the country in through work and you will have opportunities to take holidays as well.

[LB] How many volunteers do you know/work with?

[KM] I work with no other volunteers, just me and Lao colleagues. There are a few volunteers here in country from Australia and the rest of the world. You will meet them during your first couple of weeks in Laos and they will become a little family/support network.

[LB] Do you live in a shared place or your own unit?

[KM] I live in a share house with an Australian and Swiss guy. You will do house hunting when you arrive. There are a couple of websites that you can look for share houses, houses or units for rent if you’d like to get your head around everything but you will do most of this when you arrive. LB note: I now live in Kate’s old house and it’s awesome!

[LB] Have you had much time to check out the country and travel?

[KM] You will have plenty of time to see the country and many other countries. There are plenty of annual holidays that Laos has that will give you time to travel and it wont eat into your recreational leave and you can also do plenty of weekend trips.

[LB] When do you finish your placements and what are your plans afterwards?

[KM] I finish in November so I may get to meet you in person before I finish my placement. Afterwards I am coming back to Laos to work more on the project so I may get the opportunity to work with you. I will be travelling before heading back to OZ and having Xmas with the family and then probably be back in January sometime.

[LB] How have you found learning the language? Difficult?

[KM] You will have language lessons in you arrive and you can continue with it throughout the year its not to difficult you just have to stick with it.

Thank you to Kate for allowing me to publish this stuff. I hope it’s provided a bit of insight into my placement here.

Until next time,

Len

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