Being a volunteer at the Sunshine School in Vientiane

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Sunshine School is a pre- and primary school in Vientiane within the Neo-Humanist Education system managed by the Ananda Marga Women’s Welfare Department. The school was founded in 1996 and has the aim to provide a multicultural, ethically based education through integrated learning and the holistic development of the child.

We (Julia and Juliana) heard about the school from our English professor Prof. Dr. Isabel Martin and it was also her who enabled us to get in contact with “Didi” Gaorii – the head of the school. We were just in the process of finishing our studies of Primary School Education at the University of Karlsruhe with English as one of our main subjects.

After only a few emails with Didi – which were preceded and had been prepared by a lengthy and detailed exchange between Didi and Prof. Martin by email and skype – it was clear that she and her teachers would be happy to welcome us at the school and that there would always be someone to support or help us with any questions. Didi also told us in her emails that we would be free to teach in any class we wanted to and that this would be a great help for the English teachers there. We saw this as a very valuable chance to get into contact with many different classes and children and also to improve our skills as future English teachers.

Seeing as Prof. Martin had more applicants than places in the AfC project and as we were interested in Sunshine School anyway, we decided to go for it, and Prof. Martin still included us in the AfC project as a “satellite”: We paid for the flights and accommodation ourselves, but we were invited to the same info sessions and workshops in the pre-project phase, got access to her Intranet Laos project database, and she also picked us up from the airport and took us to the school personally when we arrived, to make sure everything was alright.

When we arrived at the school in September 2016, Didi welcomed Prof. Martin and us warmly in her kitchen (she lives in a house next to the school and the kindergarten) and showed us around.

As she had announced before, she had already prepared accommodation for us – a big room just above the kindergarten, with a shower and a toilet, where we could stay for the first nights. When we decided to look for our own little apartment near the school, Didi gave us the number of a landlady she knew and only after two days we were able to move in.

We were also promptly invited to pay our condolences to the mother of one of the teachers who had just passed away – and were taken along to the “wake”, the place of mourning nearby the school, where we were shown what to do to pay our respects.

The next day we got to know the English teachers of the school: Jock, Saba, Grace, and Roed.

While the Philippine teachers Grace and Roed are responsible for the primary school classes, the Lao teachers Jock and Saba mostly teach the older children. Like already mentioned above, we had the opportunity to teach in the lower as well as in the higher classes. Our tasks ranged from teaching a few weaker children separately and supporting the teachers during their lessons to teaching class on our own.

But still we always had the opportunity to talk to the teachers and ask for their suggestions, support, and help. They gave us the feeling that we were full members of staff and that our work was really appreciated at the school. That the teachers at Sunshine School had a really good command of English was another positive aspect of our cooperation – this was due to the fact that in the Philippines, English is one of the official languages, and that one of the Lao teachers had been given the chance of spending a year in the USA within a special traineeship offered by the school to learn English better.

Teaching the children was such a great experience! Of course it was a lot of work sometimes to prepare all the lessons, but the reward of seeing the progress of the pupils made it definitely worth the effort. And, furthermore, life at school was not only about work!

In the two hours’ break before afternoon school we enjoyed the free vegetarian lunches at the school, had delicious meals at a café or bought one of the sensational fruit shakes you can enjoy in Vientiane. Also, when there was an excursion or another event outside the school, such as “Teacher’s Day” or the trip of the secondary classes to a water factory, we were always invited and really enjoyed those days. 

Furthermore, we subsequently saw Denise and Lena from Team III quite often and visited each other, as they also lived in town, and went on outings together, celebrated many birthdays, visited the other volunteers in Sikeud, helped them when they did workshops, and generally had a lot of fun together in the CCC bar or other cool locations in the capital of Laos.

We also spent time with the English teachers outside official school time, just to have dinner, walk along the Mekong, or enjoy a movie night together. Another activity that was offered to us by the school was to take some yoga and meditation lessons with two of the “Didis” (“Didi” actually means “sister” in Sanskrit) there.

When our last work day came it was really hard for us to say goodbye as we spent three unforgettable months at the school with great teachers as well as great pupils, and we were asked so many times whether we would come back – you never know…

At this point we want to say a heartfelt “thank you” to all the staff – and we can only recommend to you – reader! – to work as a volunteer at this school, too! If you are interested, feel free to contact one of us via the Blog contact page (University of Education Karlsruhe, secretary of the English Department) and we will be happy to involve you with the great Didi Gaorii and her “sunshiney” little cosmos in Vientiane. More information on the school is to be found on the blog page under “Internships”.

The school also has a kindergarten in the jungle, by the way, if you prefer a full eco-setting to the hustle and bustle of city life.

All the best,

Juliana Kase & Julia Kessner from Germany

Photos by J. Kase, J. Kessner & I. Martin

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