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Read about our conservation, school building and education projects in Laos and the achievements of both our VESA staff and all the wonderful volunteers who have assisted during the season. A special thank you to Liz, Noah, Frankie and Allen who have been exceptional team leaders for 2019 – 2020.
Frankie - Conservation
Understanding the threats faced by Asian Elephants
Volunteers split their days between trekking in the jungle of the ECC to experience seeing Elephants in their natural environment, observe them bathing and playing at the nursery and in the socialisation area.
We learned about the mission of the ECC, the threats that Asian Elephants face, and the difficulties of rehabilitation and re-wilding captive elephants with traumatic pasts.
Talks from local guides and ECC biologists explain about the logging industry and the work the vets, Mahouts and biologists do at the animal hospital, and about elephant health, welfare and breeding.
The biggest threat to Asian elephants is humans! The education volunteers received can be taken forward and shared to reduce the demand for elephants in unethical industries and make more sustainable choices with the goods and food they consume.
Noah - Infrastructure and forest conservation
A new observation deck for the Elephant Conservation Centre
Dry season saw us switch our focus from planting and forestry to construction. Our goal this season is to build an observation deck which will be used for ECC biologists and staff to study and observe Asian elephants as they try to create family groups and breed.
The first two days were spent clearing and digging. There are two separate areas around the observation deck site that needed to be cleared, one for the structure and one to store and protect our tools and concrete from the rain.
Getting the materials there took almost a day as we had to slide or crawl on hands and knees as the site was on a very steep hill. We needed to ensure none of the materials were lost or damaged (mainly construction timber, concrete, gravel, sand) so we created an assembly line from the work site to the top of the hill where the materials were brought to us by tuk tuk.
We carefully slid each giant piece of timber, each bag of concrete, gravel and sand down the hill one by one passing it from person to person. Once all material is were at the site the next half day was spent mixing and pouring cement into all 6 post holes.
The volunteers decided to make steps from the site to the top of the hill to make access to this area easier and safer to get to the top or bottom. A huge shout out to all the volunteers for working hard, having a blast, and doing something very important for the success of the Asian elephants of Laos. We definitely met our goal for the week. Kop Chai!
Allen - Construction Projects
Progress on the kindergarten building
The huge school building project we have worked on at Vang Soy Village School since mid-2019 will be 3 classrooms and a veranda on a raised slab about 50 meters from the existing run-down kindergarten. It is the biggest project VESA has undertaken on construction in Laos.
Last season we constructed the posts and foundations for the building and put a roof on and this season we continued filling in the three classrooms and one long hallway to prepare the building for the concrete slab.
Day 1 we got one of the rooms filled and everyone was so proud to see the progress that we made.
Day 2 we had worked out the kinks and got another one and a half rooms done.
Days 3 and 4 we filled in the rest of the dirt and began using handmade tamps to flatten the ground and prepare it for concrete.
Day 5 we levelled off the rest of the rooms and flattened some more. On the final day of project everyone rallied together, and we got the first floor of concrete in!!!!
The volunteers were so devoted and it’s something that we all achieved together.
Liz - Education
I would like to order one sticky rice
The aim of the Education project at the school is to teach Grade 4 and Grade 5 conversational English of words, phrases and responses that they see and use on a daily basis.
Topics of conversation that can help establish and hone their English vocabulary such as “What is the weather today?” and “I would like to order 1 sticky rice.” It was a blessing to have aspiring teachers among the volunteers who helped with bring their own knowledge to the table, thanks again Jess and Michelle for your help with the colourful drawings to aid the children’s learning!
And a special shout out to Jason for his assistance in translating from Lao to English when we got stuck. A first for us tu have a Laos speaker among our volunteers.
Frankie - Elephant Conservation
Our first Laos Veterinary and Animal Sciences students
We were lucky enough to have Mr Khan (who has extensive experience working with elephants across SE Asia) to demonstrate target training, where Elephants are acclimatised to the hospital environments and trained to be touched whilst training Mr Inn (a mahout) on the process.
The volunteers really engaged with discussion at the socialisation area about the threats facing elephants and the wider environment and the knowledge they could take home and make changes with.
We also had the first Veterinary and Animal Science program happen. Our trainee vets were stoked with the chance to visit the offsite laboratory and aid Mr Khan in some hands-on experience target training.
Noah - Infrastructure and forest conservation
Planting food for hungry elephants
This group we focused on three things:
The goal at the end of this season was to have the observation deck finished.
We were getting to the end of the week and all that needed to be put on was the roof, however the tractor that brings out our building materials wasn’t running as it had some mechanical issues, so unfortunately we weren’t able to put on the roof but the ECC will be installing that within the next week. So excited for this observation post to be finished and used by biologist and guest to observe and learn about Asian elephants.
The socialization area we have been working on has had a few run ins with a herd of wild cattle, destroying the fencing in several areas. Teams of volunteers walked the perimeter of the socialization area replacing bent/broken poles and fixing electrical lines. It’s very important that this area be kept in the heat condition for the sake of both mahouts and elephants.
ECC is always in need of new plantation areas for the elephant food and ensuring they have enough is always a priority, so we created two separate plantations, one inside the socialization area and one outside next to the observation deck:
1: The plantation outside the socialization area will be used mainly for bamboo, banana trees, and possibly sugar cane. The location of this plantation is very conveniently placed next to the observation deck for easy access.
2: The plantation inside the socialization area was chosen due to its location in a massive valley. There isn’t much tree cover or canopy, so this will give the elephants more cover to cool off. Since this is an area for elephant socialization and relaxing it’s very important that they always have plentiful food as a few elephants could clear this area out in one day.
Thank you so much to the volunteers for all the hard and meaningful work you’ve done for the ECC, your impact will last for many years to come. Both the ECC and VESA are thankful for the time and work you spent helping such beautiful animals, Khop Chai!
Allen - Construction Project
Excited kindergarten students to move into their new classrooms
We resumed construction on the Vang Soy primary school after last group had poured one classroom of concrete.
We began project on day one with tamping down the remaining dirt floor and preparing the school to be concreted completely.
The remaining days of the project week we did an astonishing amount of work mixing concrete on a slab with just hand tools. Most days we were mixing a ton of concrete for the entire day and we couldn’t have been more pleased with the progress that was made.
With the completion of stage two of this massive project we’re pleased that the kindergarten class can move out of the dirt floored lean-to and start to take advantage of the safe dry classrooms
Liz - Education program
What is this?
The aim of the education part of the program at the local school is to teach Grade 4 and Grade 5 conversational English with words, phrases and responses that they see and use on a daily basis.
Topics of conversation that can help establish and hone their English vocabulary such as “What is this?” and pointing to objects they see on a regular basis (sharpener) and increasing the knowledge of the construction site and what we are doing there “Cement, Stone, Brick and Sand.”
It was a blessing to have aspiring teachers among the volunteers who helped with bring their own knowledge to the table.
The children learnt how to answer the question “What would you like to order?” and “How are you feeling?” and we spent the first morning on a refresher course and then integrated the construction work that the other volunteers were doing into our English lessons.
We spent time pointing at objects and asking them to recite them back in English. It was a blessing to see some volunteers using their own skills to teach them, i.e. creating a dance to learn the words.
Next season we hope to extend their knowledge of English and learn about more sentence structure and prepositions of the words