The Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Summit 2016 (YSEALI) was held in Luang Prabang from the 5th to 9th of September. The first days of the Summit were focused on discussions, numerous workshops and presentations by local speakers and international guests, including the United States of America President, Barack Obama.

laos-luang-prabang-long-lao-mai-tour-village-hmong-yseali-fairtrekFair Trek, as one of the local companies with experience in Community Based Tourism (CBT) was invited as one of the local speakers and  delivered a presentation focused on Sustainable Community-based Tourism as a Driver for Rural Development.  As a complement, the last day of the Summit the participants were invited to an experiential day where they could see all that they learned in action and participate in a project that works towards the sustainability and community development in Laos.Fair Trek invited 40 participants to share a day in Ban Long Lao Mai, a village where Fair Trek has been working with for many years and the village where our Eco-Bungalow is located. After being greeted and welcomed by the village chief, the day started with a rainy village tour. The participants where able to see and experience a Lao village and the life style of a Hmong community. They learned about the traditional houses, the community’s beliefs and were able to interview some of the locals with the help of our Fair Trek guides.

laos-luang-prabang-long-lao-mai-planting-graden-village-yseali-fairtrekThe day was followed by an explanation of the Eco Bungalow’s history, how it works and how it benefits the community. The participants helped us by donating their time and efforts to improve the Eco Bungalow’s garden with flower plants and fruit trees. Not even the rain or the mud stopped these young leaders from doing an amazing job! Afterwards, lunch was held in the Eco Bungalow grounds. Luckily, the sun came out and it turned out to be a beautiful day perfect for our picnic.

One of Fair Trek’s main objectives with this Project Day was to get the YSEALI participants to share with members of this amazing community with whom we have forged a long lasting relationship . Its the simple and yet important things that brought the community and the participants together; from learning how to cook and trying a typical spicy Papaya salad with a woman on her local shop to watching and interviewing a girl working on a Lao Sihn she will sell on the Night Market of Luang Prabang.

The local dance group shared a traditional Hmong dance wearing their traditional costumes, beautifully coordinated that wowed the participants. As a souvenir, the community women did traditional Hmong bracelets specially stitched with YSEALI LAOS 2016. As the village chiefs tied this bracelets to each participant’s wrist, they said a prayer out loud that calls blessings and good wishes to the bracelet owner. As is done in a traditional Bacci ceremony, it is their belief that by tying these knots the good luck and good wishes expressed in the prayer are secured. For these participants, each and every one of these moments becomes a once in a life time memory that we hope they will never forget.

laos-luang-prabang-long-lao-mai-hmong-bracelets-village-yseali-fairtrekThe participants also got a chance to visit the primary and pre-school were they met the principal and the teachers. The YSEALI Summit 2016 wanted to contribute to the Long Lao Mai school and after talking to the principal and reviewing their needs together, YSEALI did a donation to the school of basic school supplies (pens, pencils, notebooks and text books) that were given to the students.  

The participants were able to witness and experience an example of CBT tourism project in action. Fair Trek shared with them how intricate and complicated this projects can be but also how incredibly beneficial for both the community and the tourists. It was a day full of laughter and learning.  The Fair Trek team got to share our work, answer questions and help the participants shape their own projects by learning from our experience.

It was an honor be part of YSEALI 2016. We are grateful for the opportunity of speaking and participating in the Summit, of getting the chance to meet these your leaders and sharing with them this project day. Thank you to everyone involved in making all of this happen!

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This  article was written by Juliana Gutierrez G.