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Community Engagement & Service

Ghosts of War: Recovery and Growth in Post-Conflict Laos

LAOS 2016-2017 Alt Break

The Program:

During what is often called the Secret War, the United States dropped over two million tons of ordinance on the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in world history. These actions during the Vietnam War era resulted unimaginable amounts of human suffering and ensured that the already underdeveloped country would remain impoverished for decades to come. Four decades later, Laos is still looking for ways to use its unique cultural diversity and natural resources to form a prosperous society that will benefit all Laotians. This Alternative Break will be working with a variety of organizations and individuals in order to learn about two topics. One is the nature of the US’ actions during the Secret War and the impact that those actions had and are still having on Laos today. The second is centered around how Laos can utilize its unique strengths to overcome its challenges and enact both societal and economic growth in the coming years. We will pursue these two areas of study by working closely with government officials and non government activists in both Laos and the US.

Engagement Itinerary:

December 27th:
Depart from Dulles International Airport (connection in Taipei, Seoul, or Bangkok)

December 28th:
Arrive in Vientiane, Laos (Hostel Stay)

December 29th:
Breakfast in Vientiane
Meet with US Embassy to discuss new developments between Laos and the USA
Explore the City and visit the Lao National Museum (Introduction to Lao culture and history)
Later Afternoon Meeting with UNDP
Reflection discussion at hotel or in nearby park

December 30th:
Early morning visit to Pha That Luang
Visit Buddha Park  (Back in the city by 3pm)
Go back to the city for Dinner
Visit Night Market
Reflection at the hostel

December 31st:
Go to workshop with Spirit of Soccer
Meet with Lao Princeton and talk to students
Enjoy New Year's Eve with Lao students

January 1st:
Visit COPE Center
The Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre for Women or Spirit of Soccer( is possible both)  
Dinner and Reflections

January 2nd:
Depart for Vang Vieng  (Arrive by 12pm)
Explore the the caves and religious temples (Participants will learn about religion and culture)
Enjoy the Vang Vieng famous sunset walking over the wooden bridge.
Stay one night at a hostel

January 3rd:
Depart for  Luang Prabang
Arrive at Ock Pop Tot and meet workers who are paid to make cultural crafts and textiles. (Area also serves as a Hotel)
Talk to owners of Ock Pop Tot, learn about their business model  
Explore the Wat Xieng Thong
Dinner at the Night Market

January 4th:
Breakfast at the market
Visit the UXO Lao Center (Post conflict recovery efforts)
Afternoon explore the Kuang Si Falls
Reflection by the river side of the Mekong

January 5th:
Day trip to Northeast part of Laos
We plan on working with an organization attempting to develop ecotourism in the region. We will examine how their efforts can also help local communities.
Reflection about what we learned about ecotourism on the drive back to Luang Prabang

January 6th:

Depart for Phonsavan (Most likely will be an entire day of travel)
Stop in Phonxai for lunch and rest
Reflect and eat dinner at the hostel in Phonsavan

January 7th:

Go with MAG or UXO Lao to former UXO sites.
Visit the Plane of Jars ( see the bomb craters left from the war)
Meet with local Hmong people about their experiences after the war, prospects for a better life today  (if it is safe to do so)
Night time Reflection and dinner in downtown Phonsavan

January 8th:

Travel to recently decontaminated farms outside of Mok Mai and Kham with MAG
Speak with farmers about the hardships of UXO contamination, what sort of improvements they were able to make after their land has been cleared
See more of the Plane of Jars, take a tour detailing CIA operations and bombing runs in the area
Return to Phonsavan for reflection and dinner

January 9th:
Breakfast at the Hotel before heading into Phonsavan for the day
Visit Hmong Cultural and Crafts center in Phonsavan, learn about differences between Hmong culture and Lao culture
Drive out to meet representatives of the Lao Sericulture Company (fair trade company focused on protecting Lao silk traditions) and tour their farms
Talk with silk weavers about their lives before and after their employment with LSC
Discuss LSC’s business model with owners
Dinner in Phonsavan

January 10th:

Breakfast in Phonsavan
Travel back to Vientiane
Lunch and rest in Xaisomboun
Arrive at night in Vientiane
Reflection of our time in Phonsavan on the car ride/at the hotel

January 11th:
Eat breakfast at hotel in Vientiane
Spend the day touring Lao Textiles (company owned by our contact Carol Cassidy)
Have lunch in downtown Vientiane
Go to home of one of Lao Textile’s workers, see conditions that they live in now and learn about how they have improved
Dinner at hotel in Vientiane

January 12th:
Breakfast at the sunrise market in Vientiane
Meet with Jacqui Chagnon, former peace corps volunteer and influential American  activist in Laos, in Vientiane
Talk to Jacqui about the different projects she has worked on, her views on how Laos has developed
Go with Jacquie to American Friends Service Committee in Vientiane, meet staff
Dinner at hotel

January 13th:
Breakfast at a cafe near our Hotel in Vientiane
Visit Pha That Luang Wat in the center of the city
Reflection on trip at Wat Si Seket on the outskirts of Vientiane
Dinner in the city
Go to hotel to pack and get some rest

January 14th:
Early morning travel from hotel to airport
Flight back to Travel back to DC
January 13th
Arrive in DC

Quick Facts

Destination: Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Phonosavan, Laos

Dates: December 28, 2016- January 13, 2017

Cost: $2960

Faculty/Staff Adviser: TBD

Costs include: Airfare, lodging, meals, ground tranportation, admission fees, guides, travel insurance, and administrative fees.

Costs do not include: immunizations, visas


Meet Your Student Leaders!

Glen Gordon is a sophomore from San Diego, California studying International Relations in SIS. Glen has been fortunate enough to participate in over twenty short term outreach trips focused on economic empowerment, education, food/water security, faith-based community building, and environmental restoration in countries like Hungary, Ethiopia, and Mexico. Aspects of these trips served as inspiration for the Laos Alternative Break, which takes these themes one step further through continued activism after the trip is over. 

"I'm excited to lead this alt break trip because it's the perfect chance to break out of all the "hypotheticals" we do in class and apply what we've learned in the real world! Nothing compares to hands-on experiences."

Christian Cyr is a second year scholar in the Politics, Policy, and Law Program, majoring in Communications, Law Economics and Government (CLEG). Christian is interested in public policy, and focuses his studies on health care policy and polices relating to income inequality. This past summer he studied the political economy of international development at the London School of Economics and Political Science. In addition to studying international development and global inequality, Christian is interested in post conflict recovery. This past December he traveled to Vietnam on an alternative break and since then, he has worked with his peers to advocate for legislation to address the ongoing problems in Vietnam. On campus, Christian is the co-director of inclusion and engagement for AU Democrats.  

"I’m excited to lead this program because I want to apply what we learn about economic empowerment polices in Laos and advocate for initiatives to combat poverty."