Laos Literacy Boosted By South East Asia Backpacking Tours
The Dragon Trip’s tours are certainly in the “tour” category rather than the “volunteer” one but we are always on the look out for projects that can benefit the local community. We have one such experience on our new Southeast Asian backpacker tour that seeks to confront the issues with literacy and spoken English in Laos. This ties into our goals to provide insightful and authentic travel.
Laos may be a cultural gem, ideal for backpackers on a budget and one of the most visually appealing countries on the planet. While it has been blessed with this natural beauty- it has been less fortunate with other matters and is one of the continent’s poorest countries. It is also the bombed nation on the planet as it has been victim to wave after wave of carpet bombing from the Americans. Laos currently ranks as one the UN’s 36 Least Developed countries in the world. In terms of education, under 50% enrol in secondary school, the adult literacy rate is 72%, and the illiteracy rate amongst females aged between 15 and 24 is over 20%.
It will take a significant systemic change to alter these statistics, and we would never suggest that helping out for a morning would be anything other than a tiny droplet in an ocean. However, the work done at Big Brother Mouse is a part of a growing wave of programmes that aims to tackle the problem of education in Laos. One issue has been the lack of native English spoken and practised by young people. English is a great passport to opportunity in Laos with much of the country’s economic development stemming from tourism as well as being such a key tool for global business. Big Brother Mouse aims to give young people the chance to practice their speaking skills, test their listening and discover other cultures. On our budget tour of Southeast Asia; we aim to give our travellers the chance to be a part of this.
The centre plays host to around 20 teenagers every morning and afternoon, and our volunteers spend a couple of hours working in small groups. Sessions consist of conversational English or assisting with grammar exercises. It offers the students a chance to practice their English with native English speakers and an opportunity to improve their pronunciation.
The charity itself aims to improve literacy in Laos through a variety of ways. They offer village reading days, give books out to schools where resources are low, arrange fun and games at local schools related to reading and provide training for how teachers can use books in the classroom. The success of the programme has been recognised by Clinton Global Initiative.
Alex Seigel has been a part of The Dragon Trip since its very first research trip back in 2011. He now oversees our London office and prior to joining the team rose quickly through the competitive Teach First Scheme to become an assistant head teacher of a British secondary school. He is a keen sportsman, an avid afternoon tea enthusiast and has travelled to over 50 countries across 5 continents.
In honour of our good friend and colleague, Justin Shapiro, who tragically passed away in 2017, we launched The Justin Shapiro Internship and Travel Scholarship, in partnership with CRCC Asia. The programme allows a number of young people, who may not otherwise have a chance to do so, to experience working and travelling in China. We spoke to Charles Henry who went to China this summer about his experiences during his 1-month long internship at CRCC Asia, and on The Dragon Trip's 21-day backpacking adventure.