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VESA’s humanitarian and conservation projects aim to provide direct action support to communities in parts of the world overlooked by traditional charities and aid organisations.

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What we’ve achieved

Laos Elephants Encountered

Thank you

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. And a special thank you to Tom, Meg, Noah and Liz who have been exceptional team leaders for 2019

The Elephant Conservation Centre, Sayaboury

June 1st is national tree planting day in Laos. The Governor of Sayaboury Province, Mr Phongsawanh Sitthavong, joined the VESA team at the Elephant Conservation Centre and planted the first of the 5,000 trees VESA has purchased for this project. We will clear foreign invasive species, plant native trees and provide forage and food for the elephants in the Nam Tien protected area.

We are at the front-line of the battle against deforestation in Laos. VESA, the Governor, the people of Sayaboury Province and the ECC will continue to combat deforestation, as a team, one tree at a time.

Group 1

Elephant Conservation Centre

Liz - Conservation

Touring across the ECC with the volunteers is an exciting and liberating endeavour. Hiking through the forest and walking side by side with the elephants never ceases to amaze. Our tour guides Mr. Phong and Mr. Lar are knowledgeable and clear about the projects the ECC is tackling with the help of the government, such as the soft release program which is a trial run of releasing the most successful herds into Nam Phouy National Park that is set up with regular wildlife patrols, government rangers and retrained Mahouts for four months. If the elephants successfully integrate into the wild then the ECC can begin to prepare for the reintroduction of groups of former working elephants.

Some groups were lucky enough to see the young baby girl (3 years old) and the young male (8 years old) play together with their mothers! Watching these magnificent animals interact with each other and witness how one action causes a reaction within the herd is a moment the volunteers will treasure. I know the heat in the first group was incredibly tough to hike in, but the perseverance of the group made it all worth it.

  • Soft release program explained
  • The detrimental importance of the conservation of Asian Elephants
  • The ultimate goal of the ECC and their progress thus far
  • The History of the Logging Industry
  • Importance of Target Training at the Hospital Touring of the areas of the ECC

Elephant Conservation Centre

Noah - Construction and forest conservation

This season we have a brand new project! The focus was and will continue to be entirely on reforestation, ensuring the elephants have food for the next few years, and that the jungle in the Nam Tien protected area is healthy and thriving. So we did this by working at various different sites the ECC has allocated for us.

We have been clearing invasive and inedible vegetation (from South America, Europe, etc.) that is taking over the jungle floor as well as dead bamboo. Once these areas were cleared we then plated 75 new bamboo stalks and over 115 young trees to ensure the elephants at the ECC will have forage for the coming years.

  • Planted 75 new stalks of bamboo
  • Planted over 115 new trees
  • Cleared 10 large areas of old bamboo
  • Cleared hundreds of invasive and inedible plants from multiple different areas in the jungle

Vang Soy Village school

Tom - Construction Projects

The kindergarten we have begun building will be 3 classrooms and a veranda on a raised slab about 50 meters from the existing kindergarten. It is the biggest project VESA has undertaken on construction in Laos.

This week we began by measuring out the area on which the kindergarten will be built, and marking where the holes for the concrete posts will be. Once everything was properly and perfectly measured out, we commenced digging. Digging these holes was probably the most difficult part of the entire project, as breaking the ground was extremely tough. However the group managed to push though the intense heat and get a lot completed within the first few days.

The next step was mixing concrete to put at the bottom of these holes. This was a bit more exciting than just digging away, and the volunteers were keen to see more of a result from their efforts. The last couple of days were easier, spent in the shade tying reinforced bars together with wire to cement inside the holes.

  • 25 x 800mm x 800mm x 500mm holes dug for load-bearing posts
  • 25 x holes concreted
  • 25 x square reinforced steel bars concreted into holes
  • 25 x 6m reinforced steel pole-bases assembles, 3 of which have been concreted in

Vang Soy Village school

Meg - Education

I am the education coordinator who works on the teaching project at the school, the aim of which is  to increase students understanding and use of the English language, which in turn allows the students to have the opportunity to broaden their career opportunities.

We had four rotational groups this program, each of which were hard working and extremely kind with the students. Two of our male students Quansi and Bounkhom grew a particular soft spot for one of our volunteers Lucy, who kindly shared with the students her origami skills.

Another positive achievements that came from this program was the understanding the students gained regarding the construction project, our fellow Team Leader Tom, coordinated with the volunteers. This allowed the students to engage with the volunteers on the construction site by sharing their knowledge of the vocabulary they had learnt through vocally identifying certain pieces of equipment.

  • Teaching was given across year 4 and 5 students. The following list shows the work achieved with each class. –
  • Revisited the conversational sentences taught in the previous season such as: “Hello, what is your name?”, “My name is…..”, “Where are you from?”, “I am from……”, “How are you?”, “I am fine thank you”, “How old are you?”, “I am …… years old”. –
  • Introduced vocabulary which coincided with the construction project. Such as ‘sand’, ‘hammer’, ‘nail’, ‘bucket’, ‘stone’ etc. Followed by contextual sentences such as “What is this?” “This is a bucket”. –
  • Other learnt vocabulary included personal pronouns, such as I, you, she, he, they which were also put into contextual sentences to gauge greater understanding of their use. Along with, emotions, actions and other word groups.

Group 2

Elephant Conservation Centre

Liz - Conservation

In the first week you really impressed us with your willingness to learn more about the elephants at the ECC. You were able to work with some incredible elephants and learn about the importance of responsible tourism and elephant conservation.

Even with the fickle weather, you guys really soldiered through and really took everything in your stride and it paid off. Watching a medical procedure really brought it home for how much work the ECC does for these magnificent animals.

  • Soft release program explained. The detrimental importance of the conservation of Asian Elephants
  • The ultimate goal of the ECC and their progress thus far
  • The history of the logging industry
  • Importance of target training at the hospital
  • Touring of the areas of the ECC

Elephant Conservation Centre

Noah - Construction and forest conservation

Still currently working in two different areas of the ECC. One area for planting bamboo and the other for planting trees, both of which will become areas that the ECC can use for harvesting food for the elephants.

Bamboo Area: We made a lot of progress with clearing the invasive species known as Chromolaena odorata or Siam weed that has taken over Laos.  We have also done a large clean up of excess brush and weed that has been cut and put into large piles to burn, which will both get rid of the junk and make fertile ground for planting. The group planted 200 new bamboo stalks!

Tree area: The regeneration area we have been working in  has become completely full of new trees! We have now sectioned off a new regeneration area with electrical fencing and have already planted around 60 trees in this new area, we have worked hard at getting rid of as much of the Siam weed and dead brush as possible. So excited to fill this new area full with trees and move on to the next!

The ECC has to section off areas in the jungle for plant growth for two main reasons.

1. To monitor and observe the growth and health of these plants to ensure each one grows to its full potential.

2. To protect the growth of forage for the elephants from the invasive species and sectioning of areas in jungle is the only way to keep this food healthy and viable.

I am very happy with the work we are accomplishing.  A huge shout out to all the volunteers for enduring those hot days and long hikes to make a positive impact for a species in desperate need of help! You guys rock!

Vang Soy Village school

Tom - Construction project

This week we began by assembling the steel beams for the concrete posts.

This involved having some people cutting rebar, some tying squares for the frame with smaller steel bars, and the rest tying and attaching them to the frame. The teamwork that everyone displayed was very impressive and we finished them all much sooner than originally anticipated. After they were all assembled and put into place, we began building the boxing timber frames and stabilizing them into their holes ready to pour.

The final stage this week was binding the concrete with the steel frames to ensure a strong structural integrity, which was really cool to see after so much setting up for.

The volunteers loved it and still had enough energy to start digging trenches for the walls which we’ll start building next week.

  • All 25 steel beams have been concreted in
  • An extra 26 beams assembled for the walls
  • 4 x box my timber frames set up
  • All 4 frames concreted and finished with extra rebar

Vang Soy Village school

Meg - Education

By continually assisting the children with their pronunciations when practicing both one on one and as a class helps with a good foundation in spoken English.

Another positive achievement that came from this program was the understanding the students gained regarding singular and plural nouns and their contextual uses. The students knowledge of this was tested on the last day of the volunteer week which has been now been introduced as ‘examination day’ where all the students are tested by the volunteers in an exam like structure, using both verbal and written communication.

Helping reinforce the new vocabulary learnt by the students and also allowing the teachers to gauge an understanding of the students progress.

Teaching was given across year 3, 4 and 5 students.

  • Introduced vocabulary which coincided with equipment used within the classroom. Such as ‘scissors’, ‘pencil case’ ‘whiteboard’ etc. Followed by contextual sentences which related to the purchasing of such items. Such as: “I would like to buy some…”, “I would like to buy a…” –
  • Other learnt vocabulary included shapes, which were then again put into contextual sentences i.e. “What shape is this?” “This is a…” – Other contextual sentences covered, included: “Do you have a….” followed by “Yes I do” or “No I do not” and “What is that?” “That is a…”

Group 3

Elephant Conservation Centre

Liz - Conservation

Touring across the ECC with the volunteers is an exciting and liberating endeavour. Hiking through the forest and walking side by side with the elephants never ceases to amaze. The group really impressed us with ythe willingness to learn more about the elephants at the ECC.

Given the weather situation was not ideal at times (the rain made it incredibly hard to hike), you guys persevered and made the most of every moment you had. You interacted with the Mahouts and made a conscious effort to understand the history behind Laos and the elephants history as to why they ended up at the ECC.  You have taken away so much from this trip and given us the gift of a fabulous memories with the best bunch of people.

All smiles while the group hiked up to find Mae Tung By!

We also observed Mae Ven in target training with her Mahout to ensure she can safely maneuver herself to a position that Mr.Khan can examine her.

Elephant Conservation Centre

Noah - Construction and forest conservation

This group we focused primarily on the bamboo plantation area because Sayaboury was going through a dry spell with no rain. When we arrived at the ECC it had been a week since the last rain and this pattern continued while we were there. This forced us to stop the planting halfway through the week.

However we were still able to plant a large amount of bamboo up until Wednesday because the ground was still a bit wet. With still no rain by the Wednesday morning, we feared that if we continued to plant whilst the ground was very dry everything we plant would die. Once we stopped the planting the goal was to clear and clean as much of this hillside as we could to prepare for the next group.

We wanted everything to be ready to go for the next group so they can plant as much as possible.

By the end of it we were still able to plant 200 pieces of bamboo before it got too dry and we managed to clear a massive area of the invasive species from South America commonly known as Siam weed.

A huge shout out to all the volunteers for enduring those tough hikes and hot days, you guys killed it this week! A big thank you to Collin for helping me carry a girl back to the ECC who fainted on the hike!

  • 200 new prices of bamboo planted
  • Cleared a huge section of this hillside of Siam weed for bamboo to be planted

Vang Soy Village school

Tom - Construction project

The kindergarten we are building will be 3 classrooms and a veranda on a raised slab about 50 meters from the existing kindergarten. It is the biggest project VESA has undertaken on construction in Laos.

This week we were in charge of mixing concrete and pouring it into the timber boxing frames to make the posts. In between these loads of concrete, we dug trenches between each post which will eventually be filled with steel reinforcement bars binding with concrete to stabilize the walls.

  • Completed 23 concrete posts boxed in with timber
  • Completed all of the trenches connecting the posts

Vang Soy Village school

Meg - Education

We had four rotational groups this program, each of which were hard working and extremely helpful in introducing new techniques to increase the students understanding.

In particular one of our volunteers Emma, who encouraged the whole class to sing the target language being taught – which as you can imagine caught on very quickly!

Another positive achievement that came from this program was the students extremely high pass rate in their end of week exam, which was greatly impacted by the support given by the volunteers throughout the week.

Teaching was orientated around conversational English in a hospitality environment this program.  Set homework required students to bring in a list of items on a menu, such as ice-cream within the desserts category. These items were then translated and used as vocabulary within the classroom. Such vocabulary was then contextualized with a variation of questions and answers.

  • Drinks: Water, coconut juice, Pepsi etc.
  • Mains: Pork noodle soup, fried rice, sticky rice etc.
  • Desserts: Ice-cream, chocolate bar, mango
  • “What would you like to order” followed by “I would like to order 1 _____ please”  “What would you like?” followed by “Can I have 1 ____ please” – “How much is 1 _____” followed by “1 ___ is _____kip”
  • Plural forms were also introduced, i.e. “Can I have 2 waters please?”

Group 4

Elephant Conservation Centre

Liz - Conservation

Hiking through the forest and walking side by side with the elephants never ceases to amaze. Our guides Mr. Phong and Mr. Lar are knowledgeable and clear about the projects the ECC is tackling including the soft release programme.

This is a trial run of releasing the most successful herds into Nam Phouy National Park. If the elephants successfully integrate well into the wild then the ECC can begin to prepare for the reintroduction of groups of former working elephants.

We trekked deep into the jungle to find Mae Tung By’s jungle bed where she slept that night and Mae Come On, majestically walked us to her watering hole. You guys really gelled as a group and it made working together so fantastic. The heat never fazed you, the hike never fazed you and neither did the bugs.

Elephant Conservation Centre

Noah - Construction and forest conservation

This group the focus was pretty much the same as its been the past couple months, however we worked in a completely new spot of the Nam Tien area a bit closer to the ECC.

The location of this area is a highway for the elephants and definitely one of the better places to be planting trees. This new regeneration area has been worked on in the past by the ECC as a banana tree plantation. Since then the area has been overtaken with that invasive species (Siam weed) completely covering the banana trees which are still in the early stages of their growth. Due to this it was necessary to remove the vegetation before planting so we could map out where we wanted to put more trees.

We spent most of the week clearing the area and spending the last two days planting 120 trees. We planted a variety of trees this week both to become food for the elephants and to create a healthy environment for these creatures.

  • 120 trees planted
  • Invasive species removed from regeneration area

Van Soy Village school

Tom - Construction project

The kindergarten we are building will be three classrooms and a veranda on a raised slab about 50 meters from the existing kindergarten. It is the biggest project VESA has undertaken on construction in Laos.

This week we finished the last 2 concrete posts and then were able to get stuck into the frames for the concrete slab. This meant laying boxing timber frames in between each post and concreting them in.

On average we  mixed 10 bags of cement with stone and sand and continuously pouring them into the boxing timber to complete all the frames. The volunteers worked exceptionally hard and were praised at the end of each day for the sheer amount of effort and work they put in which was necessary for the project to be completed on time.

The villagers were all there to help out and it was so awesome to see them and their children get to see the progress being made on what will be their kindergarten for years to come.

  • completed final posts
  • completed all connecting concrete between each posts which will eventually become the base for the walls and the entire concrete slab
  • almost completed the roof to go on which should be finished within the next day or two

Van Soy Village school

Meg - Education

We had four rotational groups this program each of which were hard working and extremely helpful in introducing new target language to increase the students vocabulary.

A  positive achievement that came from this program was the students pass rate in their end of week exam, which was greatly impacted by the support given by the volunteers throughout the week.

From their interaction during classroom one on ones, to whole class activities and revision games. We also had some fantastic donations which made some brilliant prizes for the students end of week exam ‘goodie’ bags.

Teaching was orientated around conversational English, using activities or objects which the students would be exposed to on a regular basis.

  • Sports: Football, Tennis, Badminton, Swimming, Rowing, Volleyball – Sentence (Sports): “What sport do you like?” Followed by “I like _____”
  • Activities: Cutting the grass, steaming my sticky rice, cleaning the house, cleaning the dishes, singing, playing with my friends – Sentence (Activities): “What activity do you like?” Followed by “I like _____” – First aid: plaster, bandage, anti-septic, tape, painkiller, electrolyte
  • Bathroom items: towel, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, perfume – Sentence (bathroom items): “Can you pass me that _____ please?” Followed by “Yes of course”
  • Transport: Car, motorbike, bus, minivan, train, aeroplane, truck, scooter, bicycle – Set homework varied from students bringing in a list of activities they did at the weekend (listed above) which were then translated and used as vocabulary within the classroom.