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HAK 19

16th Dec 19 - 7th Jan 20

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Bon Voyage!

The day finally came for us to fly off to Laos! The country we’d been talking about for months & had only seen pictures of online. That moment marked the culmination of months of planning & hard work, all for a community we had never met. How exciting!😀


Kissing goodbye to our loved ones, we entered the departure area not with sadness, but with a sense of excitement for what was to come: 23 whole days in a foreign country. ✨🎶😊


The flight had us pass through Bangkok & then to Vientiane, the capitol of Laos. We arrived in Vientiane in the evening & we headed straight to the night market to get our dinner. Our first taste of Lao food! So delicious & oh so spicy! ແຊບຫຼາຍຫຼາຍ!


Tired but full, we went back to the hotel, longing for a good night’s sleep.



The next day, we set off early & visited the Singapore Embassy in Vientiane. Unfortunately, Ms Leow, the ambassador was unwell & we were met by the Second Secretary, Mr Lim & Attaché, Ms Soon. The team had an informal dialogue with them, asking some of the questions we had prepared beforehand.


The scope of the discussion covered topics like bilateral relations, ASEAN & local education efforts. 📚📙📖 The team gained valuable insights into the relations between Laos & its neighbouring countries as well as Singapore. 

We were also able to learn more about the skills enhancement programs that Singaporeans had organised for the Laotians for the benefit of the Lao community. 🎭🏈🥇 Additionally, we learnt about the Belt & Road project that will eventually connect Laos & China in 2022, increasing the accessibility of economic trade for both countries. 🚂🚄🚅✈️ 

Visiting the embassy before the execution of our project was beneficial as it allowed us to understand Laos’ political scene, & in turn be able to better understand Laos’ position in Asia. We learnt to appreciate the significance of ASEAN & importance of maintaining diplomatic ties with various countries.
After the visit, we took a group photo & we set off for Pong Song!


As we left the city, the scenery was changing right outside our windows. Paved roads gave way to dirt tracks, large sturdy buildings gave way to small, semi-constructed dwellings & endless stretches of shops gave way to vast paddy fields, dried after the last harvest.

The journey took about 3 hours but when we first reached Pong Song, we were mesmerised. We took a tour of the village, & we were greeted with the unfamiliar sights, unfamiliar sounds & unfamiliar smells.

But what really helped us, was the warmth & hospitality from our host family. They were so welcoming & accommodating, that despite the change in our usual environment, they always made us feel at home.

That night, after a round of reflections, we went to sleep looking forward to starting work the next day. 


It may seem mundane but squatting & tipping our toes to reach the nooks of the window frames while dusting & varnishing for 2 hours straight turned our legs into jelly. 😢🦶🦵


Shovelling sand & rocks made our arms sore & transporting pail after pail of cement from the pile to the pavement rendered our backs full of aches & pains. 😭 💢💢💢


It was so exhausting we resorted to forming a human chain to pass the buckets of cement, which was strangely so much more efficient & was definitely an enjoyable time watching each other struggle with our large gloves which fell off quite occasionally. 💪🏿🤙🏿👍🏿


This experience made us better understand the steps necessary to complete a building & the process was certainly a memorable one. 🔨

When we returned to Pong Song on our way back from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, we visited the town hall for the last time. We were surprised to see that the building was opened to the villagers & the kids were already running around, jumping in & out of the windows onto the pavement that we helped make. We were elated that our efforts had made a visible impact & we look forward to doing more when we return again next year.

Our mornings started with breakfast, cooked by the grandma, Meh Seua. This was followed by construction. 

A mere 10-minute walk from our home was the village hall, or what was to be the village hall. 🏛️ It’d been under construction for quite some time & our goal was to complete the varnishing of all the wooden doors, windows & their frames & making a cement pavement to surround the entire building. 🚧



During our last trip, we realised that the children had trouble reading English words.

This year, we decided to focus more on the basics & to build up the children’s foundation. 📕


We planned to conduct phonics lessons to help the children learn to pronounce English words. However, it’s one thing to plan lessons, it’s another to execute them. It was with a lot of heart & care that lesson plans were crafted. We imagined, we dreamt, & we hoped about how our kids would receive them. 📃

On the first day, we entered the classroom with our hearts in our hands. We reached out to the kids tentatively. The results were dismal. We couldn’t fully communicate with them. We didn’t know how to manage the classroom. At one point, we even questioned our value there. We were disheartened. But we tried & tried & tried again. 

Slowly but surely, the kids opened their hearts to us. It was in the little things. How they would shyly share their ເຂົ້າໜົມ (snacks) with us. 🍫🍬🍭 Or how they would drag us to their secret hide-outs tucked amongst the trees behind the school.  It was also heartening to see their progress throughout our 10 lessons, though small. 🌳🌺🍀🏵️

We taught phonics through simple topics such as colours and animals. The kids were very enthusiastic and were very receptive to the educational games we had planned. We had prepared worksheets for them as well and it definitely piqued their interest as they were always excited to fill them up. We realised that word searches were actually really helpful as they were able to familiarise themselves with the individual letters and learn how to pronounce the words they were finding. 😬👍🏿

Every night, we would gush with pride about how this kid remembered how to say, “I love you” or that kid remembered how to phonetically sound “c-a-t”. It became such a joy to go to school.

The days passed quickly. Before we knew it, it was the last day. Leaving Pong Song & our kids was a thought that we never entertained. We entered the classroom for the last time, with tears in our eyes.  It was painful to say goodbye. 

When we started, we walked to the school alone. As we progressed, our kids would hold our hands & skip beside us to & from school. When we left, they held our hands all the way home. ❤️❤️❤️

Apart from Pong Song, the team also spent time at Na Phong village. This village is less well-off compared to Pong Song, & is made up of the Khmu people, an ethnic minority. 🎎🎏


What’s more? We’d be taking a tuk-tuk (village taxi) there! 


The trip to Na Phong brought us through many other villages. We saw schools, shops, houses, plantations & even a few weddings. However, as we approached Na Phong, the once glaring white concrete road had turned a deep red, the greenery by the roadside, dead or dying from being starved of sunlight. It was dust, & it was everywhere. We even had to put on masks to keep ourselves from choking & yet, the villagers just watched us as our tuk-tuk plodded along, kicking up more dust in its wake.

The Saturday of the first weekend, we visited individual houses to distribute the donation items we’d brought over from Singapore. We asked for the number of people in their household, as well as the number of children & their genders. We then gave out clothes, soap, toys, & stationary. 🧸🧩🎨✏️🖌️👚🧥👖👕


Walking around the village, we were able to witness the stark difference between the villagers here & those in Pong Song. Many houses were made of straw & wood, there wasn’t any electricity & there wasn’t any running water. 🏚️🏗️


Yet, the villagers seemed completely oblivious to their state of living, or more likely, they were content with what they had. 😁
We left Na Phong that day quite shocked at how they were living 😲😲 & it made us want to learn from them even more & find other ways we could help them in the future. 🔮
Reflecting on the experience allowed us to draw similarities between ethnic harmony in Laos & in Singapore. Was their circumstance because of their ethnicity? Or was it because of their mindset & sense of false contentedness?



The next Saturday, we had the opportunity to give the children a short lesson on teeth brushing as well as hand washing. 🚸🖐🏻😁


We demonstrated to the children the proper techniques of brushing & distributed toothbrushes & toothpaste in the process. 🚽🛁


The handwashing lesson was done through song which went by the tune of “If you’re happy & you know it”. 🎶🎊 The lyrics were translated by one of our members & the actions were broken down in to the 7 steps to hand washing (as recommended by the Health Promotion Board). 🧼🧽

Overall, we were pleasantly surprised that the children were able to follow our instructions (which were translated as well). 😬😬

After that, it was game time. All we had to do was shout “ພວກເຮົາຫຼີ້ນເກມ!” (Let’s play games!) & the children immediately knew where to go. 😱🤣 They screamed, laughed & jumped, all while dragging us along to a nearby field. We spent the rest of the afternoon playing catch, soccer, jump rope & just running around. 🦸‍♂️🏃‍♂️🏄‍♀️🚣‍♂️⛹️‍♀️🏋️‍♀️🏊‍♂️🤼‍♀️


How on earth do these kids have so much energy? We were completely exhausted by the first half hour! 🥴🥴🥴

Despite our short time together, one could feel that the team had formed genuine bonds with the children. When it was time to leave, we were all reluctant to board the tuk-tuk & as the vehicle backed away, the children followed us like an entourage of bodyguards, waving, chasing & crying. We left teary-eyed, waving to them till the very last turn back on to the dusty main road.

Our time spent here was indeed an eye-opener. We saw the stark differences between Pong Song & Na Phong despite the two villages not being far apart. We saw a side of the ethnic disparities in another country apart from our own, but most importantly, we saw how the villagers made do with what they had & carried on with their lives to the best of their ability. We hope to spend more time in Na Phong when we come back next time. 




On the Sunday the second week, we went to visit the Nam Ngum 1 Hydroelectric Dam. Once we reached the site, our tour guides – Yang Jie & Paulie shared with the team, the history of the dam, it being the first hydroelectric dam that was built in Laos.


They shared with us the benefits of the dam which includes generating electricity for majority of the population & how it became a tourist attraction which has generated revenue for Laos as well. However, we also learnt about the ecological effects of this dam which has affected life both upstream & downstream.

We were told about the importance of Laos as a player in the regional energy market as hydroelectricity is one of the main exports. However, we also learnt about the tough political pressures placed on Laos to expand its hydroelectric network to provide electricity for various activities such as the building of the Kunming-Vientiane railway. After the sharing, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery & took many photos with the breath-taking view. 

Before we knew it, the festive season was upon us! 🎄🎊🎉✨ We really looked forward to Christmas day as it meant a short break from the early mornings & construction under the hot sun. 🥵🥵


The day started with a rousing time of Dirty Santa as we all sat together in a circle to play a modified, clean version of Kings Cup. 🎅🏿 We slowly revealed & swapped the gifts we’d prepared for one another. Though, not all of us loved the final gift we got, but it was clear that we all had a great time & wished there was a part two for this activity. 🎁🎀🎰 To end of the afternoon, we went on to take pictures against the cute Christmas backdrop that the welfare team had prepared for us secretly at 6am in the morning. 📸


After lunch, it was finally time to start preparing for the feast we were going to cook for the villagers. 👯‍♂️💃🕺 We all promptly scattered to our various roles such as, cutting garlic, ginger, & carrots, peeling kalian & washing them & lastly the chefs (or cooks). 👨🏿‍🍳👩🏿‍🍳


Our menu for the night:
Fried Carrot Cake
ABC Soup
Stir-fried Kailan with Mushrooms
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Orh Nee
Honey Lime


Though we were slightly behind schedule, we did manage to serve all the dishes we had planned & laid them out on the tables to be served to the villagers. 🥳 It was no doubt, a stressful evening, but seeing the smiles & gratefulness of the villagers as they ate was truly heart-warming & it made us wish we could prepare dinner for them once more. 😁😁

After the villagers left, we all sat down to have our dinner together. As we silently enjoyed the switch in cuisines, it was only then that we realised how much we missed the food in Singapore.  🍕🌭🥪🌮🌯🥚🍔🥩🍆




Tis the season to be jolly! Our team decided to carry on the festive spirit & what better way to welcome 2020 than with a backyard barbecue!


Everyone rolled up their sleeves & were involved in the preparation of the food. Some minced the garlic while others de-boned & marinated the chicken. Looking back, this was such great bonding opportunity & is now a precious piece of our memory.


It was also special that the house next to ours was having a wedding as the wedding guests came over with food & drinks to share. We also happily offered them our Satay, Aglio Olio pasta & Pandan Chicken!


It was such a joy to see them enjoy what we cooked. This was not a planned “cultural exchange” but sometimes in these kinds of unexpected interactions, we gain even more.



That evening was an emotional one. At first, we were all confused as we didn’t know what to expect. The priest was here, the village chief was here & all the other village elders were here too. We suddenly felt very conscious. But as we sat in a circle & the village chief started speaking, the mood changed.


We may not have understood fully what he said, but we could sense his emotions from his sparkling eyes. The Baci Ceremony that proceeded thereafter was even more emotional, especially when Mae Seua (the grandma) tied the string around our wrists. The string, made up of 32 smaller pieces of thread, symbolising the 32 organs of the human body considered as kwan (KWA-ang) or spirits or the “components of the soul.” The tying of the threads symbolizes the synchronisation of these organs.


Her blessings, their blessings meant so much to us. At the end of the ceremony, many of us let loose the floodgates in our eyes & even now some of us can’t bear to remove these strings. They represent the villagers’ blessings for us.


But on a deeper level, they represent our feelings for Laos.



On our last day in Vientiane, we visited TaiBaan Crafts which is a social enterprise run by Shui Meng, a Singaporean, & her husband.


When we reached, we were all in awe at the beautiful crafts displayed in the shop. 🧸🧶 Shui Meng then shared with us how these crafts came about & how it helps the women in many villages around Laos. 🎎🎏


She explained her motivations behind starting a social enterprise, wanting to help impoverished villagers, mainly women, to share their crafts & give them income. 💰


She further explained how her business model worked & how the business benefited both the craftswomen in the villages & the society as a whole. 👱‍♀️👧👍🏿

We also visited the Sinouk Coffee Pavilion. The pavilion is owned by Sinouk Coffee, a small-medium enterprise based in Laos. ☕🥤


The aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans wafted in the air, tingling our nostrils & tantalising our taste buds. 👀👃🏿


At Sinouk, we first had a walkthrough on the history & geography of Lao coffee before we learnt the difference between the two main types of coffee: Robusta & Arabica. ☘️🍀🌿 We were taken on a tour by Mr. Siphonesay & he showed us the roasting facilities they had.


Unfortunately, we didn’t get to watch them roast any coffee. After that, being the caffeine addicts we were, we bought different types of coffee to try & some to bring back home for our families. 😋😋


What an interesting experience! 😃



To round up our Laos experience, we visited several important cultural sites to get a better taste of their culture. We visited Pha That Luang, the Patuxay Monument & the Xieng Khuan Buddha Park. It was exciting to finally get to see these sites for ourselves. 

Something new implemented this year was the Hakiki Tour Guides! Two of our members were tasked as our tour guides for each of the sites. They shared about the historical & cultural significance & also planned little games for us.


We had fun playing a mini Amazing Race around Buddha Park, following a myriad of hints given in a mixture of Lao & English to hunt for various statues.


The games & the insightful sharing helped us appreciate these cultural sites more. We were no longer just mindless tourists. We looked & viewed these sites through the lens of understanding & awareness of Laos’ historical & current context.


We understood that Patuxay could have saved more lives, since it was built with American funds that was originally meant for an airport which would have been an American base during the Vietnam War. We learned that Pha That Luang was a crucial national symbol despite the fact that the site was religious in nature (Stupa is a hallmark of Buddhism), & yet only 60% of Laotians were Buddhist. 

All these prompted further reflection & appreciation of the rich Lao culture. That was what completed our Lao experience.


After 23 days in Laos, it’s time to head back to Singapore 🇸🇬😭🥵


The whole trip was a learning experience for all of us. Not only were we exposed to a new culture & way of life, we were also touched by the hospitality & sincerity of the villagers. 🧡 Even with our limited Lao vocabulary, they welcomed us with open arms & genuine hearts. 💛


Be it during lessons, construction, or even during our free time, the team treasured each chance we got to bond with the locals. 🙆🏿‍♂️ Beyond our language differences, we still managed to form relationships with them that are extremely special to us, & hopefully to the locals as well. 😬


We have learned so much just from our short stay in the village, & it has definitely strengthened the spirit we have to serve. 💚 They have left such a huge impact on the team, & we hope that we have managed to help them positively as well.


We are looking forward to our next trip & are excited thinking about what we can do next! 👍🏿🧐

The Sun may have set on this project, but what follows is the dawn of the next one.

Oh Laos, you’ve taken a piece of our hearts & have given us a piece of yours, filled with so much love & memories.


Till next time! ລາກ່ອນ!

HAK 19


Jia Wei

Guan Ming



Krishna, Andy, Jie Rong, Clement, Alicia, Cherilyn

Celesse, Jeslyn, Paulie, Cha Cha, Hannah, Hui Jie, Jia Qi, Joanne, Colin

Vishnu, Bernard, Cayla & Qing En



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