Khamsone Chantavong did an internship with the Energy sector of SNV in Laos for 6 months as part of his training at the Bio Force Institute in France. The logistics specialist worked on implementation and process management related to the Improved Cookstoves (ICS) Programme. Now that his internship has ended, he will be continuing with SNV in Lao PDR as a consultant advisor for the ICS programme.
- You spent a lot of time during your internship working in rural communities in Southern Laos. Was this what you expected?
My work here went beyond my expectations, because my sector leader and team trusted me very quickly. I came here right at the time when the ICS programme was beginning to introduce the clean cookstoves to households. Based on my past experience working in Laos, I anticipated that aspects such as training, communications, and monitoring would be particularly challenging parts of the fieldwork. However, aside from that, it ended up being a great experience for me to be exposed to people’s daily lives, and learn to be flexible and how to keep things simple.
- What do people in these areas know about energy?
Their awareness is limited, because their priorities are very short term: having food each day and making money for their needs. Energy is a concept that involves a lot of future thinking and most villagers are more concerned with the present, because their lives are full of uncertainties. However, their response to our cookstoves programme has been quite positive. People are very pleased to use these stoves because they make daily life easier. For example, kids do not need to wake up as early to cook before going to school, due to the efficiency and decreased fuel consumption. Now they can spend more time doing something else.
- Do you feel that you were successful in your projects with the cookstoves team?
Yes, we’ve gotten very positive feedback from households and from the monitoring process. Doing follow up is essential because the simplest aspect can be a source of problems, for instance how to properly expose a solar panel. At this point, distribution, assessment and maintenance are complete in these communities and the local maintenance workers have been trained. Now it is up to the communities to sustain the use of what has been entrusted to them. SNV is now looking into a larger distribution of clean cookstoves in Laos.
- You already spoke some Lao when you came here, so that must have made communication easier. Did you find that you still had any misunderstandings with the language or was everything easy to understand?
Lao is not my first language but my fourth, so although I can converse, of course it created a lot of funny situations and misunderstandings. One funny example is one time when instead of saying ashes I said “armpit”! (In Lao, both words sound like “kii tao,” but with different tones). I still need to improve my Lao for official meetings.
- What was the most fun part of your internship?
This is difficult to say; I enjoyed all of the various tasks I was assigned! I liked being in the field sharing daily life with villagers, watching them cook, and working on capacity building. When back in the office, I enjoyed building my relationship with out local partners from ARMI. I was also thrilled to have an opportunity to use my IT skills in monitoring and creating smartsheets.
- How has this experience shaped your impressions about international development?
It has been good to go from learning theory at school to getting actual practice. I think I am just starting to grasp what it means to be involved in an important project at an international NGO and I still have a lot to learn!
I love working with local partners but here in Laos the process of change takes a long time. However, this experience has been a confirmation for me that I want to be involved in development work, and implementing value chain methods.
- What are your plans now? Will you stay in Laos much longer?
Now I have been hired by SNV for the Energy sector to be involved in the EnDev project in Laos, so I have a long-term project to continue. I'm looking forward to continuing my work here.