Published on 14th December 2010
After 22 years engagement with the Lao PDR, VSA is suspending the programme in the country as part of moves to concentrate its work more in our neighbouring Pacific. The last Kiwi volunteer to work in the Lao PDR, Ken McIntyre, has recently returned to New Zealand having completed two years teaching government officials and mentoring English teachers of the Lao PDR Institute of Foreign Affairs.
Twenty two years volunteering in the Lao PDR.
Top row: Bob Burgess conducting rural research; Sirsena Dahanayake; Natasha Lewis preparing plans for project proposal in Nabak Village. Bottom row: Craig Salmon conducting field work; Sari Lewis; Dorothy Culloty.
VSA began its relationship with the Lao PDR in the late 1980s sending mostly education specialists. In the mid 90s it became involved in a rural development project in one of the poorest districts of Vientiane Province, Phone Soung. Six volunteers were sent to work in healthcare, education and community development resulting in greater productivity, and community credit banks funding wells and other projects.
From 1999 another VSA volunteer Bob Burgess began work as a training coordinator with the international NGO that has had the longest relationship with the Lao PDR – the Quaker Services in Laos (QSL). He ended up staying six years and changing his role along the way. Another volunteer who extended his time there was Sirisena Dahanayake who stayed six years as an economic policy adviser attached to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. He was the recipient of the ‘Cross of Labour’ awarded by the Minister as he neared the end of his assignment in 2008.
"I often think of my time in Lao, the places I went, the people I met and the friends I made. I feel privileged to have been able to experience the culture and the warmth and friendliness of the Lao people.I look upon the six years I spent there as the most enjoyable and worthwhile years of my life and because of this, part of me remains there. This must be so, as every time I have returned, why else would I get the feeling 'I'm home'."
-Bob Burgess, Training Coordinator, Lao PDR (1999-2005)
Others along the way include Natasha Lewis and Craig Salmon, both Environmental Management Advisers, Sari Lewis who worked as a Nurse Trainer after an earlier assignment in the Pacific, and Dorothy Culloty who worked as a management adviser with the Rural Research Development Training Centre. She and her partner Kees Sprengers extended their time to four years and are still working in the region.
VSA moves away from the Lao PDR at a time when economic reports show it is one of the top 10 countries to have progressed according to the Human Development Index (HDI). This was highlighted just last month (Nov, 2010) when the United Nations launched its Human Development Report showing the countries that have made the greatest progress in recent decades as measured by the HDI. The top 10 countries that improved their HDI, the most relative to their starting point, include well-known ‘growth miracles’ such as China, Indonesia and South Korea, but also the Lao PDR, Nepal and Tunisia, where progress in non-income dimensions has been marked. 
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the launch: “The Human Development Reports have changed the way we see the world. We have learned that while economic growth is very important, what ultimately matters is using national income to give all people a chance at a longer, healthier and more productive life.”