Long ago in days of old, hidden in corners of the thick forest and sloping mountains of Southeast Asia, two gourds grew in the shadows. As they grew, a strange sound came from inside. The divine rulers that inhabited the empty earth cut into one of the gourds to discover what the sounds were. Sunlight poured over the land once again, and out crawled dark skinned people, entering earth for the first time. More holes were cut and light skinned people came out. All the people, brothers and sisters, inhabited the lush land and the surrounding mountains and were the first Lao people.
This myth has been passed down among generations, explaining the creation of the Lao people. For thousands of years, the Lao people flourished and thrived, but inevitably hardship and division came, commencing a long period of the land being overtaken by other nations and of surrounding wars that spilled over the borders and brought destruction.
Laos took a brutal hit during the 19th century when France invaded in hopes of utilizing Laos’ rich natural resources to gain control of the world market. Fortunately, at the end of World War II, Laos took back over and kicked out the French, declaring its independence and etching a mark in history. This month, on July 19, Laos celebrated its 64th anniversary of independence, the monumental event that gave Laos its own place in the world for the first time in ages.
Sadly, Laos is left scarred from so many decades of fighting, and to this day is still recovering from all the damage to its land and people. During the Vietnam War, Laos received the heaviest aerial bombing in all of history when the U.S. dropped 2 million tons of leftover bombs across the Laotian countryside. Even now, undocumented landmines continue to take lives and limbs from innocent civilians. Laos’ population has been depleted from the devastation of bombing along with thousands of refugees who fled for safety, and the country still remains sparse and seemingly uninhabited today. In addition, Laos is experiencing rapid deforestation as the forest cover has swiftly decreased from 70 perfect to a mere 42 percent.
Although not realized by many people, Laos has become one of the poorest countries in the world and is filled with a great need for help in rebuilding its infrastructure and economy. Steps have been made and Laos is beginning to recover by turning to tourism. This quiet, reticent country is beginning to wake up and welcome in newcomers. As visitors wander in, Laos’ long history of struggle and hardship is unveiled, as well as its unique wonders of sweeping landscapes, world heritage sites, and rare species like the red panda and the awesome King Cobra. The world can enter into the simple life at the river basin, study and greet the welcoming faces in tight knit farming communities and experience the peace of these scarred fighters who have pushed through hardships. Only in the firsthand exploration of this wounded jewel do curious travelers have a true chance at unlocking the mystery of the Laos people – though they have nothing, they are filled with inexplicable, unquenchable joy.
Globe Aware provides the opportunity for eager explorers to join in on the rebuilding process.
On a one week volunteer vacation, volunteers will work on a variety of projects including improvements to village schools, government orphanages, and local structures, as well as completion of community projects such as repairs on inadequate facilities and unreliable infrastructure. One step at a time, Laos is reestablishing itself as a strong and resilient country, with treasures and beauties ready for the rest of the world to discover.
July Volunteers of the Month: Karin Baisden and Regina Dugan
Sisters Karin Baisden and Regina Dugan recently traveled to Cusco, Peru, to work with children from rural villages who are attending school in the city. As our July Volunteer of the Month team, here’s what they have to say about their experience:
“Our trip was incredibly moving and memorable! This was our first volunteer vacation to Cuzco, Peru, and we learned so much about the human condition. The sights were incredible, but the work we did while we were there touched our hearts in so many ways. The children have very little, yet they have so much in their hearts and are so happy to adopt you quickly into their lives! This trip brought us laughter, tears, elation and compassion! Volunteering through Globe Aware is such a worthy cause, and hopefully we changed the lives of those we met just a little, but it changed ours for a lifetime! To do something like this with your sister is priceless!”
Globe Aware takes its volunteers’ safety very seriously. Not only do we monitor the U.S. Department of State travel alerts, advisories and warnings and those produced by the equivalent agencies in Canada and the United Kingdom, but we also follow situations in each country closely through our staff on the field and our peer organizations and by calling the Embassies directly. It is our policy to cancel programs whenever there is an official travel advisory issued to a particular country or region. Other warnings are evaluated and assessed, and programs will be adjusted accordingly as Globe Aware deems appropriate. For future travel advice, please stay updated on Globe Aware’s Facebook page for suggestions and insight into current alerts.
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As Laos’ version of green papaya salad, this authentic dish is perfect for adventurous foodies who like to try new flavors! Serves: 4
You will need:
1/2 green papaya
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
3-4 Thai chillies, or to taste
2 tablespoons gapi (fermented shrimp paste)
1 tablespoon pla laa (fermented freshwater fish)
1 lime, quartered
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 tablespoons poo dong (fermented crab)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon palm sugar
1 tablespoon tamarind juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
Peel and shred the green papaya with a peeler device designed for this task or with a box grater.
Place the salt, garlic and chillies in a smooth ceramic mortar and pound until well smashed. Add the gapi and pla laa and pound into a chunky paste.
Add the lime quarters, pound, then add the cherry tomatoes and pound some more, crushing the tomatoes slightly.
Add the green papaya and poo dong and gently bruise the papaya, working the ingredients together lightly.
Season the mixture with the fish sauce, palm sugar, tamarind juice and lime juice. Adjust the seasoning to your liking.
Serve on a platter and pair with sticky rice to sop up the spicy juices from the salad.
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