4 years to the day!
First visits to Lao institutions of education with the Angels for Children Foundation in Vientiane, Laos
Our delegation visited the Vocational Education Development Institute (VEDI) on Monday, 2 November 2015, after visiting the Lao-German Technical College (LGTC) and the Department of Vocational Education in the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES).
I remember the warm welcome, the official reception rooms decorated with flags and portraits of political leaders, the sharp contrast between hot temperatures outside and cold air-conditioned rooms and cars, my surprise at how many Lao men in their fifties who held leading positions spoke German,1 and wondering what on earth all this might lead to.
I also remember my joy about the delicious cuisine and unpretentious hospitality.
The VEDI on 2 November 2015:
In that same week, we started a pilot tandem-project of bi-directional learning and teaching with Ban Sikeud Primary School, Ban Phang Heng Primary School, and Ban Phang Heng Secondary School (Team I).
It worked very well, so Team II took over more or less instantly in early 2016. Another 6 months later, tandem-work began with the Lao-German Technical College in Vientiane (Team III). Teams IV to VIII continued, consolidated, and professionalised these cooperations further.
Next visits to Lao institutions of education on “Fact-Finding Mission” (2017) and meeting Savannakhet University
In 2017, I visited Savannakhet University for the first time, and one year later we had an official university cooperation and also won an Erasmus+ Mobility grant for exchanging staff and students and starting joint research projects. Different departments and institutes of the PH Karlsruhe are involved in this partnership by now: English (my own department), of course, but also technics, biology, physics, IT, and economics.
We – SKU and PH KA – held our first International Symposium together on 11 October 2019 at Savannakhet University on the subject of “Sustainable Development and Internationalisation of Higher Education“.3
Team IX is the first team to work at both the LGTC and – for the first time – at the VEDI together.
During my spring visit to Laos in February/March this year (2019), a German parliamentary delegation chaired by a state secretary happened to visit the LGTC at the same time. While many guests and officials (and Team VIII) waited in the yard for the limousines to arrive, Dr Phouvieng Phoumilay and Dr Bounseng Khammouty approached me separately, introduced themselves as the President and the Vice-President of the VEDI, and casually asked me in fluent German whether I – or we – would consider entering a new cooperation with their institution. They had seen what we were doing at the LGTC and wanted just the same. They appreciated the German style and bi-directional approach, they said, and had completed their PhDs at the Technical University of Dresden themselves.2
Things in Laos are slow to change or happen, they say, but in my experience changes can happen extremely fast when the right chord is struck: Dr Phouvieng and I discussed the idea in more detail 6 hours later, in the afternoon, and he gave me an extensive guided tour around what must be the shadiest, leafiest campus in town for a full two hours.
The college was being rebuilt and getting ready for the new academic year, and I was delighted with the drive and optimism that pervaded the place.
We agreed to start a pilot cooperation project in the new academic year, i.e. in September 2019.
I promised there and then that I would advertise to find three volunteers amongst my graduates in the subject of English. Dr Phouvieng promised he would find a flat which would have a shower and flush-toilet, a kitchen unit, and beds. I wrote down some notes of what we discussed, just to be sure. To be extra sure we were on the same page, I sent them to Dr Phouvieng afterwards. That was basically it.
We parted in excellent spirits and briefly resumed our dialogue when the volunteers were found and the decision was made to build a new flat.
When I visited again at the end of September, the new academic year was about to start, and the place was up and ready.
Students mow the lawn and clean up:
Leaves and shade:
One week ago, our first PH pioneer volunteer graduate, Ms Phi Ha Nguyen, arrived – and has had a most interesting and enjoyable week, as could be gleaned from her late-night text messages in our Team IX chat. Her “First Impressions” could be your next Sunday read!
Text by I. Martin
Photos by I. Martin & P. Phoumilay; single photos by K. Nanthavongdouangsy, J. Zeck, T. Mayer, R. Hansmann, P. Katthyiavong & unknown passer-by at the VEDI
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Vocational-Education-Development-Institute-Laos/1444308329149746 (last accessed on 2 November 2019)
1 A new Bachelor thesis (2020) by S. Hadatsch will research the topic of “60 years of Lao-German Diplomatic Relations” and explain the historical background of this long-standing relationship, which began with the ex-GDR’s support of Lao P.D.R. since the Second Indo-China War.
2 I remembered meeting them once before at a celebratory dinner the Lao-German Friendship Society had invited me and my then-research-assistant Heike Mueller to two years before. I also learnt on that auspicious occasion that one should not underestimate the odd casual question or announcement by a Lao official, much like British understatement.
3 Reports, articles, photos, and videos on this milestone event will follow in November/December.