By Abby Boyce ’21
Summer Fellow Cohort 2019
Village Focus International, Laos
As I look back on the past eleven weeks, I am overwhelmed with feelings of joy and gratitude. When I boarded a plane at Dulles airport eleven weeks ago, I did not know what exactly I was getting myself into. I expected to be a bit uncomfortable, to learn a lot about development and working for an NGO, and to grow as an individual. All these expectations came to fruition — in much bigger ways than I could have imagined — and with them came about a million experiences and feelings I could never have imagined. One thing I was not prepared for is how large an impact this summer would have on how I view the world and my place in it.
Posing in front of the VFI sign with team members
I could not have asked for a more wonderful place to work than VFI. The staff is a family, and they adopted me as soon as I walked through the door. Through every up and down I knew I was being taken care of. Furthermore, the work VFI does is remarkable. Everyone in the office is incredibly hard-working and passionate about improving livelihoods throughout Laos. I am grateful that I got to play a role in this organization for ten weeks. While here I wrote a report for our social enterprise and a business plan for our Green Earth Center, designed many pamphlets and brochures, edited countless documents, and wrote two articles for Open Development Laos (ODL). My favorite project was one I never would have anticipated being assigned — researching unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination. I decided to write an article for ODL about SDG 18 – Lives Safe from UXO. I then wrote a second article about the Secret War – the reason UXO contamination plagues Laos. The research I did on UXO lit a fire within me. When I return to the US, I plan to do everything I can to spread knowledge about the war and the dangers and human rights violations created by cluster munitions. I think that is the best way I can thank Laos for all it has done for me.
Laos has stolen my heart. This country is absolutely stunning. I have decided karsts are my favorite geographical feature and wats are my favorite architectural structure. I was lucky enough to get to travel all over this splendid place, and the diversity Laos holds is incredible. I feel like I learned something new every day about the many ethnic groups and their unique traditions, and I know I still have so much left to learn. The people I have encountered have been among the kindest and most welcoming people I have ever met. From my first introduction I felt appreciated and valued, and I have a tremendous amount of love and gratitude for the people I came to know and those I met only briefly. I have a great deal of respect for the Lao outlook on life — most specifically, bo pen yang. Bo pen yang means “no worries” and is used in nearly every conversation. This sentiment is embedded into the lives of everyone here, and I am working to weave this mantra into my own life. As Buddha said, there is no point to worry.
This summer was not perfect, no surprise there. The moments of awe and wonder were sometimes interrupted by the challenges of a massive language barrier, my complete illiteracy in the country, feeling very far from home due to an eleven-hour times difference, and emotional challenges that I did not expect and can’t quite explain. Despite the bumps, I am grateful for every experience I have had. I am proud of the person I have become through these experiences and am grateful for my new understanding of this beautiful world of ours. Laos, you have changed me for the better, and I can’t thank you enough. I will see you again soon. Khop jai lai der, Laos. Sok dee.