Volunteers Build School in Laos

Learning in Laos

Ian McKinnon, a CRS volunteer, carries a piece of lumber with a young resident from the village of Phon Ngam. Photo by James Riturban for CRS

James Riturban wrote about his experience building a school for children in Laos:

On January 22, Catholic Relief Services embarked on its first “Mission Build” in Phon Ngam village, Laos, a community one hour north of the capital Vientiane, with 14 volunteers from the United States, Singapore and England.  CRS staff and volunteers collaborated with government officials, school administration, village leaders, and community members to accomplish a 7 day rehabilitation and expansion project of the Phon Ngam Primary School.  Through this project, CRS engaged volunteers in the improvement of a school which severely lacked the necessary resources to provide a sufficient education to its students.

Phon Ngam Primary School has 9 teachers and 119 students between grades 1 and 5.  In order to accommodate the large number of students, a dilapidated bamboo rice storage unit was converted into a classroom.  According to the school’s principal, students were also disinterested and unmotivated due to the lack of supplies and attention caused by the overcrowding. In 2009, the village of Phon Ngam recognized the need for more classrooms and held a fundraiser to raise the money to construct 3 new classrooms. Their hard work and determination generated funding for 21 concrete pillars—a start and an apparent desire to improve education in their community.

When CRS donors expressed interest in traveling to Laos to fund and build a school, their generosity was immediately matched with the needs and desire of the village of Phon Ngam. Having built homes in developing countries with other non-profit organizations, the volunteers were fully aware of the physical demands and time constraints of “Mission Builds”. However, when CRS staff and volunteers arrived to Phon Ngam village, they were met with 20 community members and school administration ready and equipped for the challenge. Over the 7 days, CRS staff, volunteers and community members worked side by side to construct 3 classrooms, renovate the bamboo rice storage unit, paint and clean the existing 6 classrooms, build a school playground, conduct a teacher training, and donate school supplies.

Although the demands were high and time was limited, volunteers still found time to have fun by playing games with the kids, such as duck-duck-goose and red light-green light.  The culmination of the visit ended with a Baci ceremony, a Lao traditional ceremony of appreciation, well wishes, and safe travels.
By the end of the project, CRS volunteers were sincerely grateful for the experience. Michael Heitz, one of the CRS volunteers and organizers of the visit, expressed his appreciation of the experience and impressions of the community.
“Based on our experiences with volunteer trips in different countries and with different non-profit agencies, we found working with CRS and its staff was flawless,” Heitz said.  “They were easy to work with, efficient, professional, and accessible. We were thrilled with the volunteer involvement from the local community. Overall, we feel our project in Laos was a huge success.”


CRS has supported education in Lao PDR for more than 10 years. With initial support from USAID as well as CRS private funds, CRS Lao PDR runs a program called Strengthening Community and School Support for Children with Disabilities. The program focuses on the inclusion of all children in primary school, with particular support for children with disabilities. In partnership with the Ministry of Education and close collaboration with the National Rehabilitation Center, the project builds on the experiences of CRS’ inclusive education program in Vietnam and has adapted the model to fit the Lao context.

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One Response to “Volunteers Build School in Laos”

  1. Chua Ling Mei Says:

    CRS / Volunteers of US and Singapore

    I would like to thank CRS and the team for giving me this opportunity to help at Phon Ngam village.

    I really enjoyed my work with this group of lovely people.

    Hope CRS will have more builds in future.



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