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Stay Another Day (or week or two)

LAOS | Friday, 18 January 2008 | Views [1808]

I want to write about a wonderful initiative here in Laos called “Stay Another Day.”  It’s directed at tourists, and intended to encourage sustainable tourism.  They publish a booklet that describes organizations and initiatives doing good things in Laos, and best of all, they offer ways that visitors can get involved, including a list of 100 suggested ways to responsibly enjoy Laos and to contribute positively to the country.  I love this initiative, and it seems especially important for a country like Laos at this vulnerable stage of developing and expanding its tourism industry.  I’d love to do something similar for Nicaragua.

The booklet features organizations like Big Brother Mouse, which is dedicated to publishing books in Lao for kids.  Some books are in English and Lao, and others are in Hmong, English, and Lao.  Books are very scarce in Laos, especially in rural areas, and children's books even more difficult to find.  Many children in Laos simply never see a book, let alone have the chance to read one.  

What I like best about the Stay Another Day initiative is that it encourages visitors to get involved and suggests many ways to do this beyond simply donating money.  Big Brother Mouse encourages visitors to purchase books in Lao to give to children when they travel to villages, or to a waiter or hotel staff member as tokens of appreciation.   You can donate time by volunteering at the morning English practice session for local kids held every day in their office in Luang Prabang for local students, which I did a couple of times.  Or, you can work with them to host a book party in a village.  

Other initiatives include a restaurant, Makphet, in Vientiane, which is a vocational training project staffed by former street kids.  The kids are trained in culinary arts, and are involved in every part of the process, from designing the menu, creating dishes, cooking, and serving customers.  I ate a delicious meal there yesterday.  Upstairs, they have a shop where they sell products that are deemed “Childsafe,” which means that they are produced by the parents of children (rather than child labor) who go to school.  

The initiative encourages visitors to support local artisans by purchasing products made in Laos.  An accompanying exhibit in Luang Prabang features photos of items made in Laos and items that are imported so visitors may know the difference.  The booklet asks visitors to respect local customs, such as removing shoes before entering a house and some businesses, not touching a person’s head, nor pointing your feet towards a person, dressing modestly, especially when visiting a temple, and by not showing affection in public (which is considered very rude).  They also suggest that you think before you bargain hard, remembering that a few thousand kip can translate into an extra meal for a family.

Laos has reached out and grabbed my heart, much in same way Nicaragua did, and I am happy to see initiatives like this that help visitors make a more positive contribution to a country that may be quite poor in some ways, but is so rich in other ways.  And I have certainly stayed many more days than planned…

Tags: philosophy of travel

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