The main things that I learnt in Laos were;
· The huge emphasis on education in Laos and how keen everyone was to learn and get the best education possible.
· The potential there is in Biogas as an energy source.
· The importance of family values in Laos and the lack of a welfare system for those in need other than the temple (see Saturday's blog entry).
· The differences in schedules, organisation and planning between the UK and Laos. When you are from such an organised society how frustrated you can get with one that isn't. When you are from such a relaxed country like Laos you think that people who are so involved with planning and organisation are mad.
· The amount of things that we waste in the western world. Nothing gets wasted in Laos. No food is thrown away and everything is used for something even when it is broken. Clothes are worn until they are threadbare and people have no problem wearing clothes with holes to carry out labouring/farming activities. Children's clothes have often been worn by every child in the village at some stage.
· Something that amazed me in Laos was the behaviour of the children was so much better and calmer than in the UK. I asked a number of parents why their children their children were so well behaved and they all advised that the key was to provide them with as much love and attention as possible and to always be calm and relaxed. If they know their parents are calm and relaxed then they too will behave in this way. Children always seemed to be given constant attention but when they were having a tantrum they were always ignored and other children seem to laugh at them. This appeared different to in the UK as UK parents are sometimes embarrassed by tantrums and will try anything to stop their child from playing up.
· The sincere happiness of the children and adults of Laos in comparison to the UK. Despite having so little they were much happier people and so much calmer and kinder to each other. Whilst there is a need for them to be supported to improve educational resources, sanitation and the healthcare system there is an awful lot to be said for living the way they do. In the west we sometimes perceive people as being 'poor' for having less than we do and think that they won't be able to live a decent life until they have a life similar to ours. In reality they are perfectly happy to live with less material goods and the positives of living in this way may well outweigh our material wealth. They work less hours and have more time to spend with family and friends. They have less stress in their life and it is rare for them to become stressed about anything. The only thing I have even seen a person in Laos become upset or stressed about is the death of a family member. When someone dies the whole village stops work and prepares for the funeral for a few days. The community all pull together to organise the event and each family from the village provides food for all the attendees of the funeral to share. A typical funeral has hundreds of people coming from all around to show their respects. There is also less envy within the culture about who has more material goods as everything is shared anyway. In the west people are often envious of others whereas Lao people see this as silly as they seem to have a really good understanding that someone will always have more than you and being envious is a waste of time. This may be to do with the way they share things. If one family owns an item that another family don't they will happily share it with other families in the village this creates a great sense of community and they all help each other out. They share equipment, clothes and vehicles. Whilst there is no care or welfare system I didn't see one homeless person and everyone seems to be looked after. They may have very little material wealth but they are most definitely a happier nation than the UK.
If you would like any more information about the projects I visited please see the links below.