Sitting here reminiscing three days before we hop on the plane to North America, we both can attest to the fact that the summer has proved to be above and beyond our expectations. The following is the summary of our contributions:
Over our 3 month placement, we were responsible for teaching English classes to University teachers and students for 3 hours per week. We aimed to focus our lessons on conversational skills and pronunciation, as these areas were where students felt most uncomfortable. Once our initial jitters passed, we found that teaching was extremely satisfying; the students absorbed English like a sponge. As well, teaching offered a fantastic boost for our confidence and public speaking skills.
On the other end of the spectrum, two colleagues and now life-long friends (Ms. Outhevy VONGMANY and Mr. Nouansisavad SOMBOUNDSACK) taught us Lao language lessons every Monday and Tuesday. The focus was basic vocabulary and pronunciation, which helped us tremendously with communication on a daily basis. We quickly faced the difficulties of learning a new language, as we struggled with hearing and pronouncing the different tones and inflections. At least our struggling offered quite a lot of comic relief to those around us. As a result, we gained a greater appreciation of how challenging it must be for Lao people to learn English.
In addition to Lao language, we were also taught Lao culture lessons from Ms. Outhomphone SENVISET. The beginning of our lessons were filled with dance steps and contrary to our ambitions to master all the dances (like the Bousloup) at the end of the summer, we still managed to look like flailing hippos. Ms. Outhomphone’s students also spent time teaching us about other aspects of Lao culture and serenaded us with amazing music. We taught the students about North American culture in the process, which is quite a hard concept to define, since our diversity and cultural practices are extremely broad.
For one weekend in June, we volunteered at a Summer English Camp run by School Support Laos, a Norwegian NGO. Over 100 secondary school students from Savannakhet Province participated in the camp, which was divided into 20 stations with different assigned activities. We worked with the teachers to help develop the activities and run the stations for two days. As we were the only native English speaking people at the camp, we were able to offer a unique experience to the students by speaking in our native tongue. The weekend was great and we walked away with many new memories, pictures and friendships.
Another fantastic weekend was spent on a field trip to Champasack Province with over one hundred students from the Savannakhet University Agricultural Department. The purpose of the trip was for the students to gain a greater knowledge of the environment and integrated agriculture in regions outside of Savannakhet Province. We crammed many sites into the 3 day trip, including a visit to the Integrated Agriculture Centre of Champasack University, the Bolivian Plateau, coffee plantations, waterfalls, elephants and the Champasack Cultural Centre. The students were all ecstatic that we joined them and by the end of the weekend our hearts were happy and cheeks quite numb from constant smiling for their photoshoots.
We also accompanied our colleagues with field work twice a week within districts throughout Savannakhet province. Our responsibilities included vaccine administration for Foot and Mouth Disease and diagnosing/medicating sick cattle and pigs. We appreciated that the management practices in Laos are entirely different than those in North America and this provided us with an incredible opportunity to analyze the pros and cons between the two systems. Interacting with the farmers and their families was an experience in itself. It was nice to see how thoroughly the farmers enjoyed their work and their intense appreciation of the efforts Savannakhet University was making to help prevent large scale outbreaks of FMD. For these reasons (and the opportunity to take motorbike rides to remote areas outside of Savannakhet), field service gave us a remarkable appreciation of the beauty of the Laos land, its people and is something that we will forever cherish.
A large portion of our time at SKU was devoted to developing a 50 page veterinary terminology dictionary for the staff and students of the university. We took the knowledge of veterinary medicine from our Canadian education and used this to develop the structure of the dictionary. We focused on different aspects of veterinary medicine including anatomy, immunology, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology, physiology and veterinary procedures. The long term plan to translate this dictionary into Lao is very exciting because we feel it consists of fundamental knowledge needed for a career in veterinary medicine. In addition, we helped develop various syllabi for new classes that SKU is adding to their veterinary health curriculum. Some of these courses included Artificial Breeding and Pregnancy, Epidemiological Surveillance, General Clinical Practice, Integrated Agriculture, Economic Insect Production, Veterinary Ethics and Law, Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Service Management.
Before leaving Canada, numerous professors and students from the Atlantic Veterinary College in PEI donated over 50 veterinary books which we passed on to the University for use by both the teachers and students. We would like to thank all of the professors and students at Atlantic Veterinary College who made this possible. We genuinely hope that the books are useful for both curriculum development and a source of educational material for students and teachers.
We would like to express our deepest thanks to everyone at Savannakhet University who made this project possible. We had had an unforgettable three months here because of their continuous generosity and kindness. We would also like to thank Veterinarians Without Borders for facilitating this project. The experiences that we have had and the friendships that we have made will never be forgotten. Thanks to Laos, we will board the plane back to North America more humble, happy, passionate and grateful.