Construction Without Machinery: The SBA-UK Volunteer Trip to Laos


During the month of November, for a short but intense two weeks, I undertook a volunteer construction project in Vang Vieng, Laos. Landlocked by 6 countries, Laos is the poorest and least developed country in south-east Asia. Caught in many wars and ruled by the French, this oddly shaped country has been left battered and worn; each time having left to pick up its own pieces, whilst still somehow retaining its laid back rustic charm.

The project I undertook was situated an hour away from Vang Vieng by moped, through mountainous roads, eventually leading up to a village. The project consisted of a school toilet being built. The first task at hand was to dig a 3m3 hole; which in a western country would not have taken that long with the use of machinery, however as we only basic tools to hand, it did.

In order to excavate the site, the dirt had to be shovelled onto a sheet, which was then carried out and dumped outside the hole. Working conditions consisted of dry air and blistering heat. The local volunteers on the project were not properly kitted out either, most wearing sandals and no gloves and others bare-footed.

The second week of the project consisted of laying the brickwork. As the bricks had to be moved from one site to another and there was only myself and one other, the children of the school helped at lunch time. This was normal for children to help with fixtures around the school comprising of mending tables and chairs to watering the plants.

Without the use of modern machinery, not only does time spent on the project increase but also the appreciation for them. Although the people of Laos are incredibly patient, probably due to their relaxed nature, their attitude towards work and their progression for the future still remains a positive one.

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