Teach English to Monks in Laos and Volunteer with Elephants in Thailand

Enhance the education of Buddhist Novice Monks and help reintegrate elephants into their natural habitat from lives in tourist camps.


Program Information

Travel to the ancient city of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Discover Laos and teach English to Buddhist Novice Monks and local lay students, both children and young adults, increasing their quality of life and access to education.The second part of the project takes place in Thailand's Chiang Mai Province and volunteer with elephants relieved from working in the tourist industry. Assist with the elephants' rehabilitation and help mahouts (traditional elephant keepers) and other villagers establish alternative livelihoods.

United Nations
Sustainable Development Goals

Overview

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.

 

Program Details

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Project Life

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.

Project Details

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.

*During traditional festivals and holiday periods volunteers will have the opportunity to join in community celebrations and cultural activities.

What's It like?

If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.

We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.

Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.

Our Ethics

Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.


Our 10 Ethical Commitments

 

Locally Driven, Collaborative Projects

We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.


 

Clear Objectives & Sustainable Outcomes

We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.


 

Impact Reporting

We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.


 

Working Against Dependency

We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.


 

Responsible Exit Strategies

For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.


 

Clear Roles & Specialized Training

We aim to ensure that ever participant is assigned a clear role and that they are fully trained and supported to carry out their work by specialized staff.


 

Respect for all

In all our actions we aim to respect the skills and efforts of all and seek to protect the rights, culture and dignity of everyone who engages with GVI.


 

Local Ownership

We work to ensure that credit for the results of any project, along with any data collected, research conduct, or Intellectual Property developed, remains the property of local organizations.


 

Transitioning from the Orphanage Model

We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.


 

Child and Vulnerable adult policies

We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.


Continual Development

As an organization, GVI is committed to striving toward best practice, and to educating both our potential participants, our partners, and the world at large about them. Both the volunteering and sustainable development sectors are increasingly, and rightly, under scrutiny. Many recent local and global articles highlight poor practices and questionable ethics GVI is widely recognized for striving to apply global best practice in the volunteering, education and sustainable development sectors throughout our operations by reputable organizations such as ChildSafe.


However, global best practice is always evolving and we dedicate both time and resources to engage with internationally respected experts and learn from the latest research to ensure our programs both fulfil their potential to create maximum positive impact, and minimise their potential to create unintentional negative impact. Along with and as part of the sustainable development and volunteering community, we are constantly learning and applying this learning to practice. We do not always get everything right, but we seek feedback from our community members, partners, participants and our staff, and react accordingly. We know are already doing a great job, and feedback we have received confirms this, but we aim to do even better and are continuously refining our operations to improve upon our already excellent reputation.


What's Included

  • 24-hour emergency phone
  • 24-hour in-country support
  • Access to Alumni Services and Discounts
  • Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)
  • All necessary project equipment and materials
  • All necessary project training by experienced staff
  • Location orientation
  • Long term experienced staff
  • Meals while on project (except on work placements for long term internships)
  • Safe and basic accommodations (usually shared)
  • Welcome meeting

What's Not Included

  • Additional drinks and gratuities
  • Extra local excursions
  • Flights
  • International and domestic airport taxes
  • Medical and travel insurance
  • Personal items and toiletries
  • Police or background check
  • Visa costs (where necessary)

Exploration

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.

The Team

Leyla Isin

Program Manager
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!"

Molly Plexico

Country Director
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.

Shayle Havemann

Director of Programs
Meet Shayle, our innovative and driven director for all our projects around the world. She has two honours degrees, one in Industrial and Organisational Psycology, and another in Developmental and Education Psycology. Shayle also has over 10 years experience in setting up, managing and evaluating environmental and community programs across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

She is well-practiced in facilitating meaningful and effective intercultural engagement and this makes her the perfect person for overseeing our operations in the multicultural country of South Africa.

When not attending meetings or planning her next endeavour, Shayle can be found spending time with her family or taking part in some or other exciting outdoors activity!

Sue Williams

Education Coordinator
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!

 

Jill Walker

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.”

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Parent Info

‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Herritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.

We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.

Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’

Parent Info Pack

Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:

Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office.
Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy.
Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page.
Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.

live base updates

Follow GVI Luang-Prabang's Facebook page for live updates straight from the field. Get an idea of the types of projects you might be involved in, meet our staff and participants, experience life on this GVI base, hear about free time activities, and learn about the local culture and environment.
 
GVILaosLuangPrabang

Arrivals

When it comes to support, we ensure that each participant is provided with unparalleled, 360 degree support, from your initial contact with the GVI Family, all the way through your program, and even after, as you become part of the GVI Alumni Team.


As part of this promise, we will ensure, whenever possible, that one of our dedicated staff will be available to meet you at the airport. We will arrange with you prior to your departure that, should you arrive in the agreed upon pick up window, a member of our staff will be there to welcome you, easily identifiable in a GVI t-shirt or holding a GVI sign and wearing a friendly smile. This means there will be someone there to greet you as you land, and from there you will be transported to your GVI base to start your adventure and meet the rest of your team.