Women’s Empowerment


When I decided a year ago to leave my job to travel, I knew that I wanted service work to be apart of my journey. I spent a lot of time last spring researching and learning about NGOs and different volunteer organizations. I scoured the internet. Read blogs and articles. Bought a couple of books on service work and travel. With so many different options out there my first step was to narrow my focus on what volunteer work I wanted to do. As an educator, I was interested in helping young people. As a coach, I was interested in helping girls. As a woman, I was interested in learning how other women live. I decided to let “women empowerment” and “education” be my key words when searching for programs.

The second thing I had to decide on was what organizations to use. There are so many different ways to do volunteer work abroad. Some people pick a location and once they arrive find ways to volunteer in the local community. I knew that wasn’t my style of travel so I spent time researching exactly which organization I would work with. I was flexible with location so kept my search broad when it came to geographic location. I also wanted to make sure I understood exactly where my money was going when signing up. A common theme that kept coming up in my research was being careful when using organizations, especially NGOs, that had a fee associated with the project. Unfortunately some NGOs don’t always use the money collected for reasons they claim to.

After looking into multiple projects, I came across a women’s empowerment program in Luang Prabang, Laos. After calling the parent organization, GVI, and speaking to someone about the specific project happening in Luang Prabang, I knew I had to sign up and go.

Women’s health workshop

As mentioned in previous blog posts, I spent six weeks in Luang Prabang teaching English to girls. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to read my post entitled Teacher Kelly to learn more about my time and experience as a teacher in Luang Prabang. I loved teaching the girls. It was incredibly rewarding as an educator.

One of the reasons I choose GVI Luang Prabang Women’s Empowerment Program (WEP) over other teaching programs was the opportunity to participate in their menstrual health initiative.  In addition to teaching English, I taught a women’s health workshop.  GVI Luang Prabang WEP had recently partnered with the organization Days for Girls (DfG). DfG is about empowering women and girls throughout the world providing them with female health education as well as sustainable, washable menstrual kits. DfG partners with organizations and relies on volunteers and donations to help reach women and girls across the globe. According to information on their website they have reached more than ONE MILLION women and girls around the world. These are women and girls who didn’t have access to clean, sustainable menstrual options.

There were two components of the project – menstrual kits and menstrual health education.

Menstrual Kits:


Each DfG kit contains the following: 8 liners, 2 shields, 2 pairs of underwear, 1 wash cloth, 1 bar of soap, 1 plastic bag, a menstrual tracking calendar, and instructions on how to use and clean the items. Each of these items is placed into a colorful cloth bag.

A Days for Girls Kit

The design and construction of the liners and shields are patented to DfG. The shield has a polyurethane lining in between the two pieces of fabric that helps with absorption. The liners are made of two pieces of flannel cotton material sewn together. The liners are folded into thirds and the ends are tucked into the shield. The shield can hold one – three individual liners so that a female can adjust to the needed protection. The shield is then placed on a pair of underwear and snapped into place.

Two shields and a liner – both of these items are hand-made using a sewing machine.
An unfolded liner – the liners are designed to be folded into thirds before going into a shield.
A liner tucked into the shield.
A shield with a liner on a pair of underwear.
The shield is kept in place by a button that snaps underneath.

The shields and liners are designed to be washed and then dried in direct sunlight. Even in circumstances where clean water is not available, hanging the items in direct sunlight is enough to help kill bacteria and allow females to reuse the items. With proper care the kits are designed to last up to three years.

The kits were a labor of love. The shields, liners, and cloth bags were all machine sewed by local volunteers and women as well as volunteer groups from abroad. All the kits were based on donations. Some people donated money for the materials while others donated their time to sewing. Leyla, the Program Director for GVI Luang Prabang projects, did an amazing job collecting materials and kits. Some of the kits and materials came from DfG chapters in Australia while some of the materials were actually sewed and made in Luang Prabang.

Through donations, GVI Luang Prabang WEP has been able to acquire a couple of sewing machines. Local women and girls in Luang Prabang were learning how to sew. This way the liners, shields, and bags could be made right there in Luang Prabang instead of always having to come from volunteer groups in other countries, making it more sustainable while contributing to the local economy.


Menstrual and female health education:

Menstrual health education is the second component. Most of the women receiving the kits are unaware of what is actually happening when they are menstruating or they lack complete understanding of the menstrual cycle and how it relates to pregnancy. By providing girls and women with knowledge about their own bodies, it empowers them to understand what is happening each month. It also helps dispel some misconceptions.

One aim of GVI Laung Prabang WEP Menstrual Health Initiative is for it to be locally led. This means instead of Westerns leading workshops in the field which then have to be translated, local, native speaking women and girls lead the workshops.

Since my skill set is not sewing, I was fortunate enough to help with the educational side of the program. I helped to lead a course in female and menstrual health to local young women who in return would be the ones to lead the workshops in the villages.

Teaching young Lao women about the menstrual cycle.

Using the DfG curriculum and certification program, I spent four weeks going through the following topics: puberty, male and female anatomy, reproduction, and the menstrual cycle along with how to use and clean the items in the DfG kit. I had two girls, ages 17 and 19 respectively, in the workshop. They were accompanied by a young Lao woman who is one of GVI Laos’ Community Liaisons. She acted as a translator when needed in the workshop but she was also preparing to help lead workshops in villages as well.

What’s important to keep in mind is that I was teaching this material in English so that the young women could understand the information and then be able to teach it to others in their native language. As someone who only speaks one language, it was not lost on me how remarkable these young women were. I’ve taught biology in American high schools. I know how hard some of the material was for my native English speaking students. While their English was pretty strong, they were not fluent English speakers, yet! The girls had to work extra hard at focusing and paying attention to not only the biological information but the English language as well.

After weeks of sewing, assembling kits, and preparing to lead menstrual health workshops it was time to head out to remote villages in Northern Laos. I was very fortunate to be one of two volunteers who joined the Program Manager along with two of the young women in my health workshop.

The team out in the field!

We went on a five day trip in the Mung Ngoi area in the mountains of Northern Laos where access to education and menstrual products is limited. Over the course of the five days we visited five villages and delivered seven menstrual health workshops in the locals’ native ethnic languages (Khmu and Lao).

Women starting to gather for a morning workshop. We did a presentation the evening before but not all the women in the village were able to attend because of having babies and young children to attend to. We did a second presentation in the morning so they could hear the information and receive a kit.


While we tried to do our workshops during the day, it wasn’t always feasible since the women worked in the fields during the day. Some of workshops happened in the evening after the sun went down. Since the villages did not have electricity we used headlamps to illuminate our diagrams. This village provided us with a single light powered by a battery.
Evening presentation by headlamp
This picture, as well as the one above, captures the amazing work of a young Khmu woman. At the age of 17, she is leading a menstrual health workshop. She is standing in front of a crowd talking about puberty, male and female anatomy, reproduction, and menstrual cycles! While it’s mostly women in the workshops, many of the men in the villages were curious about our workshops, too! I was humbled by her strength and courage especially at such a young age to stand in front of a crowd and present on such a topic.
An other image capturing the moment when a student becomes the teacher.
Women attending a workshop
One of the things that struck me was the generation of females – young girls, teenagers, young mothers, middle age women, older women. Knowledge is power at any age.
While the workshops were for women we always had a few men in the crowd listening.

In total, 317 DfG kits were distributed to girls and women over the course of seven workshops.

Demonstrating how to use the kits.
Distribution of the kits.
Every female of reproductive age received a kit.
Occasionally someone wasn’t able to attend the group workshop so we gave presentations to individuals or small groups so that as many women as possible could receive a kit.

I failed to mention that permission was needed by each village chief. The GVI Luang Prabang Program Manager and her husband, a Lao native as well as GVI Community Liaison, worked hard to meet with each village chief months earlier to gain their permission to come into the villages. The village chiefs, known as a nai bans, were incredibly welcoming and gracious hosts. They provided shelter and prepared our meals.

Finishing up breakfast one morning before getting ready to move to our next village.
Preparation of a meal.
Unsure of numbers we packed over 500 menstrual kits.

We used every means of transportation to carry the kits. We traveled by truck, tractor, foot, and boat.


The first couple of days we traveled by truck. Occasionally the road was steep enough that they had us get out and walk for both safety as well as to lighten the load!
And by road I mean a single dirt track running through the forest.
It was easier and faster to hike to our fourth village. We set out for an hour hike with the help of local women who carried the remaining kits to the next village.
For our fifth and final village we traveled by boat.
The team moving on down the river.
Catching a little break as we wait for our final workshop.
View of the final presentation. Access to knowledge on the human body and female reproductive health is so important. All girls and women should have access to clean, sustainable menstruation kits. No female should feel shamed by a natural and biological process. No female should have to change their routine or stay home from school or work because they are menstruating. So glad I got to be a small part of the important work being done by organizations like DfG and programs like GVI Luang Prabang WEP.
Water buffalo hanging out at the river’s edge as we made our back to the boat after our final workshop.
We had a two hour boat ride through beautiful scenery to our pick up point in Nong Khiaw.

Here are a few other images from the trip:

View of a village from the back of a pickup truck as we drove in.
Single room school house made of bamboo in one of the villages we visited.
View of the village from the school house building pictured above.


Some villages had easier access to water than others. In this village you had to hike down the side of a hill to reach water. Which of course meant you had to walk up the hill when carrying the water back.
Having a sugary treat – sugar cane!
After a couple of days out in the villages we had a chance to shower. It took some work and skill keeping covered up while showering in public.
Days for Girls and GVI Luang Prabang Women’s Empowerment Program doing amazing work supporting female health.



Happy Holidays! Happy New Year!

83E43EC6-ED8D-40F4-A2BC-5D1B061A5854.jpegI figured since it’s still January I can still get away with saying “Happy holidays” and “Happy New Year”! I really wanted to get this post in during the holiday season but between travel time, being sick, time with family, and then being busy seeing all the sites of New Zealand (I know excuses, excuses!) it just didn’t happen…until now!

I hope the new year is off to a great start for everyone. I can not believe February is around the corner. That means I only have one more full month of travel ahead of me before settling back down again. So much to catch up on but I am going to keep focused on the topic of this blog – the holidays. Here’s a recap of the holiday season!

Saffron time!

December 23rd – my birthday! I spent the day (my final day) in Luang Prabang. I went to my favorite coffee place – Saffron – to soak in the views of the Mekong River, drink the wonderful local coffee, and snack on my favorite treat, banana bread with espresso butter! I took some time to journal and opened up a card that a follow volunteer friend had given to me before she departed earlier that week. It was also a lot of fun getting messages and emails from friends and family back home. Being far from home on my birthday and Christmas was new and different, but hearing from people was awesome!

View from guesthouse balcony 

Because I was done with my program I had to find a new guesthouse for my final night in Luang Prabang. I stayed at Cold River, a guesthouse a couple of doors down.

Happy hour with Beer Lao!

I enjoyed one final Beer Lao on the balcony before getting ready for dinner. Luang Prabang had good coffee and beer!

Birthday outing 

I met some wonderful people while volunteering in Laos. Helen was a follow volunteer from England. We both had the opportunity to participate in the female health workshops in rural villages. We arrived back from our trip the evening before so it was fun celebrating both a birthday and our recent adventure on my final night in Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang airport

December 24th – departure from Luang Prabang. I was really sad leaving Luang Prabang. I spent six weeks working, living, and exploring in that area. I met some wonderful volunteers who have become friends. I worked with some incredible people at GVI who are doing amazing work teaching and creating opportunities for others. I taught really sweet, friendly, appreciative students. I wish I could have been there for longer.

Luang Prabang during takeoff
One final look at the Mekong River

I had a mid-afternoon flight from Luang Prabang to Bangkok and then a red-eye flight from Bangkok to Sydney. So I arrived into Sydney on Christmas morning.

December 25th – I arrived early in the morning and was lucky enough to be able to check into my hotel. I was feeling quite jet lagged but thought it was nothing more than needing a little nap. I woke up not feeling great but blamed the travel. I rallied for a stroll down by the harbor.

Sydney Harbor 
Sydney Harbor Bridge
Sydney Opera House

After walking around for an hour I decided I needed another lay down and that’s exactly what I proceeded to do for my entire 72 hours in Sydney. As it turned out it was more then just jet lag and I ended up with the flu. Fever, body aches, loss of appetite, zero energy. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for Christmas or my time in Sydney but I am so thankful that I had the opportunity and time to rest and a comfortable place to spend three full days in bed.

My view for 72 hours!

I probably would have spent another day or two in bed but had to rally on December 28th to catch a flight to Auckland to meet up with my sister, Casey!

New Years Eve in Sumners, outside Christchurch, with my sister!

Casey and I spent a couple of days in Auckland before flying down to Christchurch for New Year’s. She joined me for a two week road trip on the South Island. She left two weeks ago while I remained here on the South Island. New Zealand is amazing. I’m so lucky to be here in their summer when the weather is warm and the days are long. There is so much to do and it’s so easy to be outside until the final light of the day is gone. It’s wonderful! It’s just harder to find the time to sit at the computer and write! So more blogs to come when I can steal myself away from Mother Nature!

Sunset along the West Coast

This is why there have been so few posts. I just want to be outside from sunrise to sunset!

Teacher Kelly


I am writing this post from my favorite cafe in Luang Prabang, Saffron. It has amazing coffee along with riverside seating. As I take some time to reflect on my time here in Luang Prabang as a teacher I think it’s only fitting that I do it from my favorite viewpoint with a strong Americano in hand.

It’s hard to believe that five weeks ago I was beginning my teaching adventure with orientation and yesterday I had my last class in the classroom. The past five weeks have been some of the most rewarding weeks of my life. We took pictures yesterday and I wish I could post a picture of their sweet faces and wonderful smiles. For privacy reasons I am not allowed to post pictures of students’ faces so you’ll just have to believe me!

My weeks have been busy between lesson planning, travel time, and teaching. Despite the long days I went to bed every night feeling happy and content.

Lots of cafes in Luang Prabang but this was my favorite cafe to work from. They had an outdoor balcony on the second floor. Great views of palm trees and the Nam Khan.
Pops of saffron as novices and monks walk by the cafe. A common site with all the temples that are in Luang Prabang.

My mornings were spent on a buffalo farm teaching three young women around 18-19 years old. They have an internship on the farm helping in the kitchen and eventually the cafe when it opens. They help make mozzarella, ricotta, and blue cheese along with ice cream and yogurt from the buffalo milk. My time focused on helping them with vocabulary as it related to working in a kitchen and cafe. Some of the grammar focused on understanding prepositions (on, in, under, behind, etc.) and single/plural sentences using the verbs is/are. For example the coffee is on the table and the eggs are in the refrigerator. The girls loved to sing! So we often had fun breaking out into song. The Beatles Here Comes the Sun, James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend, and Justin Bieber’s Baby Baby were on repeat! Saying goodbye to them may have brought a few tears to my eyes!

Lots to see when the classroom is a farm!

I had a more traditional teaching assignment in the afternoon. Students would come to an English learning center after their regular school day.

English learning center

The students came in everyday saying “Hello, Teacher” and smiling. They were engaging, polite, and eager to practice their English. Class started every day with the students standing up and saying, “Good afternoon, teacher, how are you today?” I would respond and proceed to ask each individual student how they were. Common responses included “I am very happy” or “I am very tired” or “I am very sad”. My response back was “why are you happy/tired/sad?” They were usually happy because they got to study English or see Teacher. They were usually tired because they had to ride their bicycle long distances or if it was a Thursday afternoon they were often tired because they spend Thursday afternoon’s cleaning the classrooms and bathrooms at their school. Yes, the students are responsible for cleaning the school each week. This past Friday a couple of students said they were sad because it was Teacher’s last day. Indeed it was sad for me, too.

On any given day I would have 2 – 7 students in my afternoon class. Friday was usually the lightest of the days. Most of the students I worked with lived away from their families. Their families were still in their home villages but they had moved to Luang Prabang to have access to education. Some of the girls live with family members i.e. a sibling or distant relative that had moved to Luang Prabang while other girls live on their own in a dormitory/guesthouse. As a result, many students traveled home to their villages on Friday afternoons.

Class ended with the students standing and saying, “Thank you, Teacher, for your teaching. See you tomorrow.” This was typically followed with hugs and high fives as the students left the classroom. I had six female students and one male student who had a sister studying English at the same time. The students ranged in age from 13 – 17.

We spent a lot of time on subject and object pronouns. While the Lao language has subject pronouns it does not have object pronouns so this grammar lesson extended for a couple of weeks using different activities.

Since the students always said “see you tomorrow” at the end of every class the song Tomorrow from the movie Annie always played in my head. Since the students enjoy singing my last class with them was learning the words to the song and singing it together. The students love reading and learning new words. We spent time going over the words and adding them to their ever growing vocabulary list. I quickly learned that miming and acting were handy tools when trying to explain vocabulary. My acting skills have really improved and I would be a great charades partner at the moment!

Female Health Workshop

My afternoon English class was followed by a female health workshop. The goal of the workshop was to inform and empower Lao girls to know more about what’s going on with their bodies as females. Many females in Lao do not have access to menstrual health knowledge and/or sanitation materials especially in remote villages. The organization I am volunteering with has set up a partnership with the organization Days for Girls. Days for Girls partners with organizations across the globe in order to bring sustainable menstrual health kits and knowledge to girls and women in remote areas. The ultimate goal of the evening workshop is to have these young women be the ones to deliver the presentation instead of strictly translating the material from a westerner.

The exciting news is that some of the menstrual health kits and presentations are happening my last week in Lao. I have been invited to join a small group of people who will travel to five remote villages in Northern Lao over the course of next week to assist in the presentation and help hand out the menstrual health kits to girls and women.

I will dedicate an entire post to this project and trip so more to come.

Menstrual Health Kits. Each girl and women will receive one of these colorful bags with a kit inside.

This is my last full weekend in Luang Prabang. We leave early Monday morning for the villages. We return Friday or Saturday, and I leave Sunday. Here are a few other pictures from my time here as a teacher.

Buffalo cows on the farm. The farm rents the cows from local farmers. This helps provide an income for the farmers. The farm is owned by a couple of American and Australian friends who employ locals to work on the farm and in the kitchen. Using the buffalo for their dairy is a new practice for many of the locals. Most buffalo are used for labor or meat.
The farm added a female pig and her seven piglets!
Baby buffalo!


The drive out to the farm was pretty bumpy and curvy.
We had to go over several one lane bridges like this one.
We passed several temples on our drive.
Children go home for lunch during the school day. We always passed by lots of children walking or riding their bikes back to school after lunch.
One of my favorite views from the drive.
Lots of motorbikes and it’s very common to see more than one person on a bike.
A family on a motorbike. I’ve seen as many as four or five kids on a motorbike with an adult.
View of the parking lot before students arrive at the English learning center.
View of the parking lot after students arrive.
View of the parking lot as students leave. One needs to be heads up when leaving at night!
View of sunset from the classroom window.

Elephant Adventure


The second weekend in Luang Prabang was filled with adventure. A couple of volunteers and I signed up for an elephant walk. We spent our second Saturday in Luang Prabang with elephants – feeding, bathing, and walking along side of them. We were not interested in a facility that offered elephant riding or mahout training. After doing some research we selected Mandalao. They are a more recent elephant program in Luang Prabang and it was interesting to learn about their different projects and goals when it comes to elephants. They do not offer riding tours or mahout trainings and their mahouts on staff do not use any physical commends with the elephants. Some of their projects include reducing the number of elephant camps that offer riding and mahout training tours, finding ways to reduce poaching, along with developing a DNA database of elephants that would prohibit poachers from being able to move elephants to other countries. They were very passionate about providing a happy, healthy environment for their elephants especially since the elephants led a hard life prior to coming to Mandalao.

It was a truly magical day hanging out with these massive and majestic animals. In addition to spending time with the elephants it was nice spending time in the country side. Not only does Mandalao provide opportunities for the elephants, they also incorporate the local village into their project. What follows are pictures of the day. Enjoy!

Mandalao – area outside their restaurant
We had to wear special boots since we would be going into the river when bathing the elephants. Part of our trekking also included some water crossings.
We had a quick boat ride over to the other side. This view is looking back at the welcoming area and restaurant.
First up – feeding the elephants some bananas! It was important to keep the bananas behind our back because given the choice the elephants would rather go for a bunch of bananas rather than a single banana!
Elephant feeding! I will admit this was outside my comfort zone. The elephants were pretty funny. They had no problem putting one banana away after another. It was amusing watching their trunks take banana after banana after banana…
Bath time was next!
We dipped buckets into the river in order to splash water on the elephants.
After some time in the water it was trekking time. We walked with the elephants for a couple of hours in the woods. Sometimes we walked next to the elephants…
…sometimes they walked behind us…
…and sometimes we walked behind them!
The elephants were beautiful and it was amazing watching these animals maneuver through the woods.
Half way through our trek we stopped for another round of bananas. I love the expression on the face of this elephant. It was clear after spending time with these creatures that they are amazing animals with feelings and emotions. I hope programs like Mandalao continue to do the important work of advocating for the health, safety, and rights of elephants.
This is one of my favorite pictures of the day. It was hard not to feel the connection between my friend Liz and this elephant.

After two hours of trekking with these beautiful creatures it was time to say goodbye. It was really nice spending some time outdoors. In addition to the elephants we saw some amazing and beautiful wildlife.

Our trek took us through teak groves.
Can’t remember the name of this plant will need to do research to find the name but saw these throughout our trek.
Aren’t these beetles amazing!
Such beauty and color in nature. Another thing I discovered on the trek that I need to find the name of.
Another fun find!
A farm in the village. Mandalao supports farmers in the village by purchasing their crop yields as food for the elephants.

When we got back to our starting point we had a lovely lunch that included traditional Lao food. The trek with the elephants will definitely be a highlight for me.

A terrific experience and I encourage others to spend time with elephants, too, but ask that you keep in mind how you spend time with them and how the company you use cares for them.

A Saturday in Luang Prabang


My first free weekend in Luang Prabang was a busy one. On Saturday I managed to fit in a river cruise up the Mekong River to Ban Xiang Hai, aka Whisky Village, and Pak Ou Buddha Caves in the morning and a drive out to Kuang Si waterfall in the afternoon. Here are a few pictures from the excursion.

Boarding the boat

The boat left from Luang Prabang in the morning around 9am. I went with three other volunteers who started the program at the same time. We spent an hour and a half on the boat heading up river. Our first stop was Ban Xang Hai, the so-called “Whiskey Village”.

Tasting the local whiskey with new friends!
We opted for the ones without any critters in it!

The area we saw was a bit touristy but it was still fun walking around the village and seeing how they make their rice wine and whiskey.

The whisky was good enough to buy a little bottle and enjoy back at the guesthouse!
Our boat on the Mekong River

After our stop at Whiskey Village we continued to travel up the Mekong to limestone cliffs around Pak Ou – the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers.

I loved being on the water. It was a nice way to spend a Saturday morning and a great way to take in the local scenery.
It’s so green here! I love all the banana, coconut, and palm trees.
View approaching the caves
Confluence of the Mekong and Nam Ou Rivers
Entrance to the lower cave, Tham Thing

Pak Ou caves are limestone cliffs above the Mekong and Nam Ou Rivers. There are two caves, the lower Tham Thing cave and the upper Tham Phum cave. They are referred to as the “Buddha Caves” because of their collection of Buddha statues dating back to the 16th century.

Buddha statues 
More Buddha statues
And more Buddha statues! 

After our visit to the caves we traveled back to Luang Prabang.

The boat ride was my favorite part of the trip. I loved the color blocking of the brown river, green mountains, and blue sky. 


When we got back into town we had lunch before our drive out to Kuang Si waterfall.

Kuang Si waterfall


So many stunning view points. 

It was a pretty busy day but we managed to keep it going with dinner at Dyen Sabai, a restaurant on the other side of the Nam Khan. In the dry season there is a bamboo bridge that people can use to cross the river.

Bamboo Bridge at night looking back at Luang Prabang old city. They light the bridge up at night making it a bit easier to cross. 
The bamboo craftsmanship in Laos is amazing and this bridge is no exception. There is a small fee to cross this bridge. The money collected is used to build a new bridge every year after the rain season. 
Bamboo bridge during the day from Luang Prabang old city side. This is one of my favorite views in town. I pass this bridge every time I walk into old city.


Kuang Si Falls

Sabaidi from Laos! I am two weeks into a six week stay in Luang Prabang. It feels good finally being caught up on past adventures so I can start blogging about my time in Laos.

View of the Bamboo Bridge over the Nam Khan. There are two rivers that run along Luang Prabang forming a little peninsula at the one end of town – the Nam Khan and Mekong River. This is my view from the sidewalk when I walk from the volunteer guesthouse to my favorite cafes for coffee!
The convergence of the Nam Khan and Mekong River.

I am volunteering for six weeks teaching English to girls. My schedule is very busy. I have lesson planning in the morning for the four classes that I am teaching. Around 10am I take a van or tuk-tuk out to a buffalo farm about 40 minutes away from the guesthouse.

Tuk-tuk ride to the buffalo farm. I love the ride out to the farm especially from the back of a tuk-tuk. It’s nice getting a break from the businesses of town and into the country side.

The farm recently opened up to the public selling their homemade ice cream from the buffalo.

Buffalo on the farm

I teach two one-hour classes to girls. The objective of the lessons is to work on English with a focus on the kitchen, cooking, and working in a cafe.

I often use the site of the future cafe as my classroom. The farm has been in existence for about two years now but it only recently opened up to the public selling their ice cream. They will eventually open up their cafe for people to enjoy salads and sandwiches along with their ice cream. The farm is using milk from the buffalo to make their own ice cream and cheeses.
It’s very dangerous working at a farm that sells homemade ice cream!

Around 1pm we drive back to town where I grab a quick lunch and break before heading to a learning center where I teach an English class to six girls after school.

It’s about a mile and half walk to the learning center. The walk is one of my favorite parts of the day. The center is located away from the downtown, tourist areas of Luang Prabang so it’s an opportunity to see locals living life. This is a common site walking around town as well as to and from the learning center. Novices and monks walking the streets to and from their temple. Some of the volunteers in my program are teaching English to novices and monks.
Here I am in the classroom wearing my teaching outfit. As a teacher I must wear a collard shirt and the traditional female skirt known as a sinh. Because I teach on a carpet I have to take off my shoes and teach barefoot which I love doing!

When I am done with the English class, I help teach a women’s health workshop with an other volunteer to some of the older girls. We are helping them understand female health topics like puberty, menstruation, reproduction, and childbirth. More to come on this project in a future blog dedicated to this topic!

Once the workshop is done around 6:45pm I make the mile and a half walk back to the volunteer house for dinner. So it’s a full day and busy week but I am absolutely loving it!

Luckily we have our weekends free and I’ve been able to take advantage of some free time to explore the local area, enjoy some meals out, and take advantage of the great coffee and pastries in the cafes.

One of my favorite cafes has views of the Mekong River. Laos grows coffee so my favorite place to get coffee makes it from coffee grown on their plantation. It’s nice and strong! This is a fun place to come and watch boats on the river taking tourists to different sites.
The cafe I like going to has river side seating – which is the view from the picture above – or you can sit in their cafe. This was my view Saturday late afternoon enjoying a cup of coffee and their homemade banana bread with espresso butter. Yum!

More blogs to come from Laos about the different weekend trips and adventures as well as on the work we are doing with the girls. Kop chai (thank you) for following along!


Singapore Slowdown


Singapore was a quick stop in between adventures. I slowed down the pace in Singapore and spent a lot of time resting and relaxing. Nepal was a busy six weeks and I wanted to be rested heading into my next adventure – teaching english to girls for six weeks in Luang Prabang. I was able to take in a few sites and really enjoyed exploring this city. It was very easy to navigate and the people were extremely friendly and helpful. I wish I had given myself a few more days to explore this interesting and diverse city.

My flight from Kathmandu was at 10:30pm so I arrived early Monday morning into Singapore. I was pretty tired so spent much of the day working on my blog at the hotel but I managed to muster up the energy to walk around Orchard Street and the area around my hotel. I could not get over the shopping! And the number of stores – above ground, below ground…shops, shops and more shops!

The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands mall – a great example of shopping in Singapore 


It was fun walking around because the city was getting ready for the Christmas holiday season so lots of decorations, music, and lights. I enjoyed seeing “Christmas” because I won’t be seeing any in Laos. The next time I see any signs of Christmas will be on Christmas Day when I land in Sydney!

Decorations hanging in the entry way of a shopping center.
Decorations hanging from trees along Orchard Street.

While still warm and very humid, the weather was overcast on Tuesday. When I left the hotel it had started to rain so I picked an indoor activity. I spent the afternoon at the National Museum of Singapore. I joined the free tour and had a wonderful experience walking around the exhibits while learning more about the history of Singapore. It was really very good and I recommend it to others. It made my time in Singapore more enjoyable knowing more about the history of the people and country.

National Museum of Singapore
It was pouring rain when I finished walking around the museum so I decided to wait out the rain in the museum cafe.

Luckily the rain stopped about an hour later. I took the metro to the Gardens by the Bay and spent the rest of the day exploring the garden and watching the evening light show.

View of the Singapore Flyer and Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay by day…


…and Gardens by the Bay by night!
Every night there is a light show set to music. The show I watched was set to Christmas music. Again it was a lot of fun getting in a dose of the holiday spirit.
Night view of Singapore from the Dragonfly Bridge

Wednesday was all about walking around the different neighborhoods of Singapore. I took the metro to Little India. I walked around the streets and temples of Little India before walking to the Malay Heritage Center, Masjid Sultan and Arab Street. From there I took the metro to Chinatown. I loved that within a span of a few hours I was able to be in Little India walking around a Hindu temple, Arab Street visiting a Muslim mosque, and Chinatown taking in a Buddhist temple.

Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple
Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple
Masjid Sultan Mosque
Inside the mosque
Bussorah Street with Masjid Sultan
Shops on Arab Street
More shops on Arab Street. So many fabric stores. I love walking around neighborhood shops.
View of Chinatown exiting the metro station.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum in Chinatown
Inside the Buddha Tooth Temple and Museum
After visiting the Buddha Tooth Temple I spent some time just wondering around nearby streets. I love architecture so really enjoyed walking around Singapore streets. Such a mix of old and new.

Singapore was a great layover city to explore. I left a lot unexplored but I figure it’s just another reason to visit again! Up next – Laos!


Final images of Nepal

Prayer wheels

I had an amazing six weeks in Nepal. As with any good travel and adventure there were ups and downs, but I would not change any of it. Before moving onto Singapore here are a few final images and memories of my time in Nepal.

Shrines and temples were everywhere in Nepal. I passed these four alone getting from my hotel to Kathmandu Durbar Square which was only about a mile and a half away.


I could not get over the traffic and narrow streets especially in Kathmandu.


I found walking around Kathmandu both exhilarating and terrifying!
While you technically drive on the left in Nepal, there aren’t any lines on the road so it’s common to see cars and motorbikes going wherever they need to in order to keep moving. This was a common sight at intersections. There were no stop signs or traffic lights. Crossing any intersections definitely required a pedestrian to be paying attention.
The view from the backseat of a taxi.
It was a toss-up for what was more stressful for me – riding in a taxi or walking! I really enjoyed my time in Kathmandu but the traffic was awful and I found walking to be difficult.
All the pickup trucks were brightly decorated.
Electrical lines in Nepal.
Momos! I loved eating these dumplings. They were a staple in my diet during my time in Pokhara and Kathmandu.
This sign in a restaurant bathroom made me laugh. Most toilets in Nepal aren’t made to handle toilet paper so you have to put toilet paper in the trash. This sign could not have been more accurate!
I loved my time in Nepal. It was a great place to start my travels. It was the change and challenge I had been craving. I felt blessed and humbled by my time in Nepal. It was hard leaving but I have a feeling I will be back!

Kathmandu Sightseeing

33BD0902-963A-4E79-9A33-ABD05E71140BIt was a long travel day to get from Pokhara to Kathmandu. It took nearly 10 hours on a bus. Once again the ride was bumpy especially since I found myself in the last row again. There was lots of construction as we approached Kathmandu which made the trip even longer.

The tourist bus station in Pokhara. The different bus companies line up around the lot. Plenty of stories to share about my bus rides in Nepal! You will have to ask me about them the next time we see each other!
My last look at the Himalayas from the tourist bus station!

I had two full days to explore Kathmandu. I spent Friday doing a tour of Boudhanath and Pashupatinath.

Boudhanath – one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


View of the shops and buildings that surround the stupa. Visitors aren’t able to go into the stupa but we are able to walk around the perimeter.

After spending some time at Boudhanath I went to Pashupatinath, the holiest Hindu pilgrimage destination in Nepal.

The Bagmati River flows through the complex.
Lots of temples, shrines, and statues throughout the complex as well.
The Arya Ghat cremation grounds are located here. The Bagmati River is an extremely sacred river for Hindus. Open-air crememations occur here where the ashes can be swept into the river.  This was a really powerful and meaningful place to spend some time as it was a place filled with life and death. It’s hard not to be reflective at a scared site like this regardless of religious beliefs and customs.
I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening walking around Thamel.
Kathmandu, especially Thamel, is filled with shops, restaurants, people, taxis, and motorbikes!
I spent my second day walking around Kathmandu Durbar Square. It is a complex filled with temples and shrines, both Hindu and Buddhist. I went on a Saturday, a day of rest for the people of Nepal. It was filled with tourists and locals.


One of my favorite moments was watching a group of women congregate and listening to them sing/chant. I sat for 15 minutes or so off to the side listening to them.


This was another favorite moment of mine. I took some time to just sit and take the world in. I sat on the stairs next to the woman in the pink scarf. She was there with her husband and small little boy.
My view from the steps. The local children loved throwing grains to the pigeons and chasing them.


Just one of the many dogs in Nepal.



Pokhara was a great place to visit and I really enjoyed using it as a homebase for three weeks. I loved being by water again. Here’s a few highlights from my time in this town.

Across the lake is the World Peace Pagoda. After we were done with our trek a few of us from the trekking trip took a boat over and climbed up to the top. It offered great views of the lake and town of Pokhara.
View of Pokhara from Peace Pagoda.
When I arrived back into Pokhara after Chitwan, I did a three day meditation, yoga, and introduction into Buddhism retreat at the Ganden Yiga Chozin Buddist Meditation and Retreat Center. The center is associated with the Kopan Monastery.
There was a prayer wheel in the lower level of the center. There were 16 of us from all corners of the world. I enjoyed learning more about the Buddhist philosophy especially as it relates to loving kindness and compassion.
This was my view from the roof of my final hotel that I stayed in. When I was done with the retreat I had three days to relax and just enjoy the town of Pokhara. I took advantage of the time to catch up on sleep, writing in my journal, doing some blogging, and taking advantage of the spas! I was also able to catch up with a volunteer I had met at Her Farm. He was at the farm for a couple of days before his travels took him to Pokhara for some volunteer work. We had kept in touch so it was nice knowing someone in town to make some plans with.
On my final day in Pokhara, I was invited to join one last trek with Archana and 3 Sisters. They picked me up early in the morning and we drove to Sarangkot to watch the sunrise.
The views never got old. I absolutely loved my time in Pokhara and trekking in the Himalayas. I hope to go back one day. I woud like to spend more time their and do a longer trek next time.
A fun story: This is Archana. Archana studied abroad and lived in the United States for six years. Of all the places to live in the US she lived in Monterey! During my planning stages two different people mentioned the trekking company 3 Sisters to me. They told me they had connections with the women that run the company because a family member of theirs had studied in Monterey. I looked into the company while planning but it didn’t look like trekking was going to be possible in my orginal plans. I got to Nepal and things began to shift. I had time for a trek after all. I reached out to 3 Sisters to see if there were any upcoming trekkking trips. Lucky me there was! There was a 5-day trek to Ghorepani/Poon Hill. Perfect. I signed up and traveled to Pokhara. My first day there I met Archana. We got to talking and in our conversation I learned one, she will be my trekking guide, and two, she was the connection to Monterey! She was the one that shared mutual contacts in Monterey! What a crazy, small world! Archana and 3 Sistres Trekking could not have been nicer or more helpful. When I arrived into Pokhara I was a bit frazzled after the nine hour and very bumpy bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara the day before. My trekking shoes needed to be fixed as the soles of the boots were coming undone, the cord to charge my phone was no longer working, and I still needed to pick up a few essentials for the trek. Archana could not have been more helpful in pointing me in the right direction to make sure things got done and got done properly. While 3 Sisters specializes in providing women trekkers with women guides and assistants, they do have male guides for groups/couples that have males trekking. I highly recommend 3 Sisters as a trekking resource for anyone traveling to Nepal. And if you’re lucky enough to have Archana as a guide tell her hello!
After watching the sunrise we grabbed breakfast at a guesthouse before trekking two hours through villages.
During the trek we came across wild poinsettia- both red and white. I have never seen it growing wild before. It’s beautiful.
I am forgetting the name of this plant. It looks like watermelons but it’s not! I learned that this plant was used for washing clothes before detergent was invented. They would boil them to release the seeds while putting the clothes in to wash. It’s very toxic!
This was a common site throughout Nepal – bamboo holding structures up during construction projects.
After an early morning and day spent trekking I enjoyed one last beer at sunset on the lake. Next stop – Kathmandu!