During your 2 weeks stay in Laos, you get to explore the beautiful ancient city of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated in northern central Laos. Teach English in this idyllic setting, at the meeting of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, famous for its Buddhist temples and monasteries.
In addition to spiritual and traditional beliefs, many males from rural villages commonly travel to cities such as Luang Prabang to seek out food, shelter, education and employment opportunities by joining the temples and becoming Novice Monks. This program seeks to increase students’ access to education which in turn can positively impact their future employment opportunities, socio-economic status and quality of life.
During your last 2 weeks you will volunteer in the mountain forests of Northern Thailand and spend part of each weekday in the field with elephants relieved from working in tourist camps. Leaving their tragic pasts behind, these gentle giants now live improved and more natural lives in the Chiang Mai Province of Northern Thailand - an area famous for its traditional elephant keeping communities.
In Northern Thailand you will learn about elephant history, behaviour, training, biology, social interactions and more. You will have the incredible opportunity to observe our elephants in their natural habitat. While learning about elephants from the local Karen community, who have worked alongside elephants for centuries, you will witness the improved welfare conditions you are involved in bringing to these incredibly intelligent animals.
"I have recently returned from being involved in two fantastic GVI programs – teaching Novice Monks in Laos and the elephant reintroduction program in Chiang Mai. My experiences were incredible! Teaching a ‘sea’ of orange-robed boys and adolescents is a complete change to what I’m used to! It was such a rewarding and amazing experience! The group of volunteers I taught with were a group of wonderful people. We had so much fun together teaching and exploring the beautiful town and surrounding areas of Luang Prabang.</em>
<em>The thing that hit me the most with my time in the Elephant Program was the passionate nature of the interns and staff. It was so easy to become enthusiastic to learn about the ‘gentle giants of the forest’. They really take your breath away! My home-stay family were wonderful! It was such a privilege to be a part of the village culture. My trip was jam-packed with life-long memories! Thank you, thank you GVI!"
What's Not Included
In Laos you will work with a wide variety of students, both Novice Monk and Lay students of varying ages, teaching both practical and conversational English across different levels. You will work on the project Monday to Friday, planning and delivering English lessons. Weekends are yours to explore the surrounding area or simply relax at base with your fellow volunteers. Accommodation is in a centrally located guesthouse with electricity and shared rooms and bathrooms. You will enjoy daily communal meals with your fellow volunteers.
In Thailand you live in a communal atmosphere with the villagers and our English speaking staff who will be providing guidance throughout your time on the project. Days will begin in the early morning and will be long, as you will spend time out in the field with the elephants and return later in the day to assist with local community and base projects. Although the project can be physically tiring, you will be rewarded with both a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day and the noticeable positive impact that we have on the lives of our elephants and the local community; through helping improve the villagers English language skills and generally spending time with members of the community.
What's Not Included
Laos: As Laos’s tourism industry has begun to expand and diversify, the demand and need for English education is rapidly increasing. Working directly with the community, you will plan lessons and teach English in a variety of settings with a GVI teaching partner and assist local teachers with their English lessons; fostering an exchange in teaching methods and techniques. GVI Laos collaborates with 2 temple schools to provide English programs for Novice Monks. In addition, we also provide several English classes for Novice Monks at the local Luang Prabang library. Volunteers will teach Novice Monks at at least one of these locations, while also contributing to the broader project, teaching local lay students, both children and young adults.
Thailand: The population of Asian elephants and their habitat is rapidly declining. With less than 1,000 left in the wild in Thailand, but around 3,000-4,000 in captivity. GVI provides one of the few viable alternatives to the reality of their domesticated future within detrimental tourist camps. Please note, this is an ethical volunteer program and we do not partake in riding elephants, demonstrating unnatural skills, or interacting hands-on with the elephants more than necessary. This project is one of the few viable models that puts elephant welfare as a priority.
How these projects makes a difference:
Laos: The main focus of GVI Laos is education as a tool for individual and community development. Educational opportunities and socio-economic status are closely related in Laos. Economic disadvantage and deep-rooted cultural values restrict access to education. This is only magnified for those living in rural areas; for Laos, this equates to three quarters of the population. We aim to help to increase students’ access to education and improve their quality of life. By doing so, GVI Laos works to empower our students to increase their future employment opportunities, positively impact their socio-economic status and improve their quality of life.
Thailand: Elephants can be very expensive to care for, and are viewed as private property and a means of generating income for the local communities. The elephants are therefore often forced into camps or street begging to make money through tourism in Thailand. The lack of viable alternatives for income from elephants is detrimental to their health and well-being. Our volunteer project aims to provide an alternative way for the elephants to bring in money for the local village while continuing to lead healthy lives that will ensure their long-term conservation and survival.
What's Not Included
Volunteering with GVI not only allows you to participate on programs assisting disadvantaged communities or endangered ecosystems but it also offers wonderful opportunities to travel in the local area in your down time or further afield either before or after your program. Many decide to travel after volunteering, solidifying the lifetime friendships established on program.
Our long term field staff are a great source of advice and are here to help you make the most of your time abroad. Remember to ask about discounts on local activities and side trips through your association with GVI. Our field teams have helped us put together the following information on trips and travel options in Laos and Thailand!
Included Side Trips
Thailand: The location of this project is remote, leaving Chiang Mai city you embark on a 4-5 hour journey into the mountains. On the way, we pass through Doi Inthanon national park (Thailand’s highest peak) and usually stop for a short walk to one of the spectacular waterfalls
Optional Side Trips
Laos: On your weekends or while off project, the following short trips are popular with our volunteers and should definitely be checked out! Swim in the crystal clear water of the Kuang Si waterfall, enjoy the cascades and walk to the top of the falls to enjoy the beautiful view of the course of the water below. Visit a protected bear camp at the falls; take a ride on the Mekong River to visit the historical Pak Ou Caves that hold thousands of Buddha images. Visit the “Jar Maker” and weaving villages, kayak on the Nam Khan River, visit the Royal Palace Museum and the beautiful temples of Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Mai, cycle through the Luang Prabang valley and experience the daily life of the local people, passing temple ruins and handicraft villages.
Thailand: While on the program, there is ample time for you to plan side trips and organise transportation. These are not part of the program and are best taken as a weekend trip or as an activity before or after joining the program. There are neighbouring villages that are great places to wind down, get a traditional Thai massage or explore temples. Opportunities exist, before or after the program, for you to go bamboo river rafting, rock climbing, visit Doi Inthanon National Park, relax at a local resort/spa, and take advantage of everything that the Chiang Mai Province has to offer!
Further Travelling Opportunities
Laos: There are a number of opportunities for exploring Laos further, these could include visiting the World Heritage-listed ancient temple of Wat Phu Champasak, the nature reserve of Nam Ha Npa, the dramatic Mekong River, the travellers' adventure hotspot of Vang Vieng, and many more. Even further afield, the likes of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand all border Laos and are a travellers dream with an endless list of possibilities and activities.
Thailand: Thailand is a country with a massive range of fantastic places that you could visit. If you have the time and budget, you could consider going to see the following; the waterfalls of the picturesque Khao Yai National Park, the local tribes of Nam Province, the beaches of Ko Tao and Mu Ko Chang Marine National Park, the golden kingdom of Ayuthaya, the temples and nightlife of Bangkok, just to name a few! Chiang Mai city abounds with tour operators offering a huge array of amazing side trips in the local province, throughout Thailand and beyond into neighbouring countries such as Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar.
Women's Empowerment Coordinator
Meet Tara, our energetic Women's Empowerment Coordinator in Luang Prabang. Tara has had the privilege of visiting around 38 countries and she loves new adventures. She has parasailed in Spain over the Mediterranean, while staying in New Zealand she skydived over Queenstown and bungy jumped off the Auckland Harbor Bridge.
Tara has received a few degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Great Falls in Great Falls, Montana; completed a Semester Abroad Certificate of Proficiency from Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand; and a Master of Arts in International Human Rights and Service with specialisation in Not-for-Profit Management from the University of the Rockies in Denver, Colorado. She was initially attracted to GVI as a volunteer teaching novice Buddhist monks. "I immediately saw the impact of the work I was doing and felt deeply moved by the beauty of Lao culture and Lao traditions. Becoming the Women’s Empowerment Project Coordinator back in Luang Prabang was the perfect opportunity for me to put my skills to use while making an impact."
Meet Leyla, our wonderful program manager in Luang Prabang. She completed a degree in International Relations, specialising in International Development from the Australian National University, she is TESOL certified, moderately fluent in French and is currently studying Lao. Leyla is a passionate person with diverse interests; she has been playing the piano since age 6, she loves running and doing yoga, she loves travelling and has set foot in many countries, sky dived in Austria, and cliff dived in Croatia.
She was first attracted to GVI as a volunteer in 2013. "Our work as a non-political, non-religious organisation that runs bottom up, inclusive projects was what I admired and wanted to get involved in. After volunteering in Kenya for 6 weeks in 2013, I went back to Australia to finish my degree. I knew that I wanted to put my volunteer experience and knowledge into practice in the field, and Laos has been the perfect place to do this!"
Meet Molly, our hard working country director for both Thailand and Laos. Over seeing operations in two countries is no easy task but Molly is more than capable.
She started volunteering and travelling at a young age, working in soup kitchens, with AmeriCorps, at animal shelters, as a Big Sister with Big Brother Big Sisters of America and as a Guardian ad Litem. She studied family development and psychology and loves to dance.
Her goal is to visit one country for every year she is alive. The most unusual place she has travelled to is Uzbekistan, on a trip beginning in Europe and ending in Southeast Asia. This is where she fell in love with Laos which began her journey with GVI. She started working for GVI back in 2012 and she is now based in Thailand. GVI has hubs all around the world and she has been lucky enough to visit the hubs in Nepal, Thailand, Laos and the office in South Africa.
Meet Sue, one of GVI’s Field Staff members in Luang Prabang. Sue is an ex-volunteer herself and completed two GVI internships, one in 2012 in Thailand and then another in Luang Prabang in 2015. This Sri-Lankan born TEFL qualified teacher is currently studying BA Humanities and is passionate about the Asian climate, food and culture. Sue is a wizard in lesson planning, teaching, organising, administration, and making sure all the volunteers are happy and safe, both at work and at play.
Meeting new people gives her a thrill and she absolutely loves getting the chance to work with new volunteers on a day-to-day basis. Teaching Novice monks and making a difference in their lives have been a highlight on her GVI journey and she has been intrigued by their sense of humour! “Giving alms to the monks early in the morning is the best way to start the day and going to listen to the novices chanting in the evening is the best way to end a hectic day.”
She thrives off the energy from enthusiastic and open-minded volunteers and being able to mentor them from nervousness to confidence. Her skills aren’t restricted to the classroom; she is also very entrepreneurial and adventurous. Sue had her own business for over fifteen years and celebrated becoming a grandmother in 2012 by going zip-lining in Chiang Mai, Thailand!
Assistant Director of Programs
Meet Jill, our Assistant Director of Programs and line manager for Thailand, Laos, India, Nepal, Australia and Kenya programs. ‘Manow’ (lime), as she’s locally known in Thailand where she's based, taught English, environmental education and art in the USA and Thailand before joining us to set up a TEFL and Community Development Expedition. “I haven’t looked back since!”
When Jill isn’t working, she likes reading or doing just about anything energetic. “I devour books, love cooking and enjoy finding some time to get some exercise – yoga, dancing and aerobics are some of my faves.”
What does Jill like most about her job? “It’s great to see volunteers rising above the cultural and language barriers between themselves and the communities. That, and every day is completely different, which is the way I like it- it keeps me from getting bored.” Being ‘allergic’ to being bored has led to Manow doing some pretty amazing things. “I once ended up spending a week living in a cave with some Buddhist monks while I helped them build a small adobe monk hut.”