Lao – The Whole Hearted People

All good things must come to an end, including my fellowship to Laos.

In terms of my professional development, while working with my host community at the office of Natural Resources and Environment of Xayaboury province, I learned how environmental sustainability is a key tenate in development. Within the context of development in Laos environmental and social sustainability are joined ideals, where both have to be balanced for industrial or energy projects to move forward. I was provided the opportunity to visit several sites and meet with their project developers:

1) Environmental management practices of Xayaboury Hydroelectric Power Project, which is the first dam in the lower Mekong River. This project will provide independence for the region in terms of energy production, while also generating income through energy export. As part of the project, the jungle surrounding the dam will be reforested and fish passing facilities will not only protect existing fish populations, but also provide extensive research opportunities for national and international scholarship.

2) Industrial management practices at the Hongsa Power Project, which is the first coal power plant in Laos. This project is set to be a model for modern coal extraction and furthers the region’s goal of energy independence, generates income through exports, while creating long-term job opportunities for those in the region.

3) Social development practices associated with the resettlement villages. Existing villages were moved and consolidated as part of the Xayaboury Hydroelectric Power Project and Hongsa Power Project. These resettlement created an opportunity to improve access to employment, education, and healthcare for villagers, but were construction in a manner that respected the livelihood, cultural and religious practices of these ethnically diverse villages.

4) Agricultural development practices associated with organic rice production and start-up farming. The GOL (Government of Laos) is supporting organic rice cooperatives, where the farmers own the land, and the government provides education on organic rice production methods and access to planting and harvesting equipment. Additionally, the GOL is creating a market and price setting the goods, so that rice farmers have a more stable income and are not price-competing within their own market, but collectively completing against international market prices. Separately outside of Luang Prabang, a YSEALI alumni is developing models for start-up farming at Mekong Eden Farm. This project is a community based and intended to empower rural communities in the mountainous regions of Luang Prabrang and Xayaboury Province, with education regarding sustainable agricultural practices.

Rice Field in Xayaboury Province
Discussing Eden Farm Project on Mekong River
Traditional Lao house construction at Eden Farm

In terms of international relations and cultural understanding, my hosts provided me with opportunities to explore Lao culture through meals, home visits, touring history sites, participating in Buddha day services, and adventuring into the beautiful jungles.

A central theme in Laos is the elephant. The three-headed elephant was the imperial symbol; the relationship between men and women is described using the elephant (men are the tusks and front legs charging forward and women are the back legs providing balance and support); and the Mahouts tradition of training and domesticating elephants. As logging has been discontinued and elephants are no longer used as warrior, the domesticated elephants are celebrated with the National Elephant Festival in Xayabouy and protected at the Elephant Conservation Center The ECC and GOL have partnered together to maintain the natural habitat for elephants, support their cognitive developing, honor the mahout culture, and encourage population growth through breeding programs.

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