SAE LAO is a project founded by the amazingly generous and inspirational Sengkeo. It’s located 7 km down a dirt track outside of Vang Vieng, in Nathong Village. The project is based on a model of permaculture to encourage new ways in which to live sustainably. It is run almost entirely on bio-gas, using a system which converts organic waste to produce energy (methane). At SAE LAO, this energy is used to produce gas to cook with. The waste is also used as a natural fertilizer for crops, which can be sold in the restaurant.
Each biogas unit costs between $1000-1200 to install, but once it’s done the advantages are infinite. Not only is a bio-gas generator environment-friendly, but it is also healthier, more cost-efficient, and it’s sustainable. Sengkeo believes that the key to sustainability is achieved by teaching the Lao people and giving them the knowledge which can then be passed down the generations.
As well as setting a good example, the project also benefits the local community by providing daily English classes. Volunteers come to teach the students from 5-7 every evening. The students who come to SAE LAO come because they want to learn. You see the eagerness in their faces every day as they turn up to learn, often after cycling up to 8 km to get to class at the end of the day.
SAE LAO is largely funded by the volunteers who come from all over the world. But really, it is Sengkeo’s vision that drives the project forward. He has high expectations for the future and each day he comes in with new ideas – whether it’s to search for a precious seed in the mountains, which can take years to grow but in time, future generations will be reaping the rewards; or whether it’s to introduce more drama classes for the kids.
The main problems I noticed when I was staying at the project were firstly, that a long-term volunteer is desperately needed to maintain structure and continuity in the English classes. Although the volunteers who come and go all the time is good for the students, because they enjoy meeting international people and they can develop their conversational skills, it can also be disruptive to their learning, as students have to constantly adapt to new teachers and new teaching methods. A long-term volunteer on the other hand, can really get to know the level of each individual student. Also the lack of teaching supplies was apparent from my first day, when I didn’t even have a marker pen to use. On my final day, I bought my teenage students dictionaries and exercise books and I’ve never seen such excited student faces!
Another immediate problem is the lack of water drainage. Last week, it rained solidly night and day. The place was submerged in water, engulfed by the rivers on both sides. Sengkeo looked at us and said, “We are so not prepared for this.” The kitchen and store room were both flooded and the central electricity tower had collapsed, so we were left without power and water overnight. The solution – a good draining system.
You can help the project in many ways. First, you can help by volunteering – the longer you stay , the better. The teaching is really rewarding. I wasn’t only teaching the children, but they taught me a lot about Lao culture too. You can also make an online donation and your money will go directly towards buying new teaching supplies and general funding of the project.
For more information visit : saelaoproject.com