by Peter Banwell 
Laos Educational Opportunities Trust (LEOT) Director and GoPhil Board & Founder’s Circle Member

It is a long drive on narrow winding roads to reach a ‘village with no name’ set high in the mountains of northern Laos, not far from the border with China. The people are members of a Hmong ethnic group and their village hangs from the steep slopes like a ribbon. It is an area of great beauty, yet even greater poverty. The community makes a meager living from subsistence farming on the unforgiving slopes.

Laos Educational Opportunities Trust (LEOT), a long time GoPhil partner, learned of the village’s needs through the Laos Department of Education when they approached LEOT for assistance. It was shared that this growing community with 184 primary school children had space in their existing school for only half the children and younger students simply stayed at home or went to work in the fields with their parents. This is a situation that LEOT is more than well aware of, as we have visited three similar communities in recent months and have helped several communities by ensuring schools and clean water are made available to these remote areas.

At the end of October 2018, LEOT’s Community Manager Bounniew and I visited the village with members of the Department of Education to meet the village head and the village committee. The meeting was long and difficult as most of the villagers only spoke Hmong and the visitors only spoke Lao. With the help of the headman’s son as translator, the village offered a field for the project and agreed to provide a team of villagers to clear and level the land in support of the building project. This local ‘buy in’ is really central to all LEOT outreach projects, as it helps ensure the success of the effort. Further meetings took place in Luang Prabang between LEOT and the Department of Education and an agreement was signed for the construction and operation of the school.


LEOT Community Manager Bounniew meets with village committee to agree to the building of a village school.

Over the past four months, Community Manager Bounniew, villagers and builders worked long, hard days to create a miracle of a new school. The villagers worked with only very simple hand tools to level the land and assist the builder. Bounniew sourced all the materials, installed the lights and the fans as well as found a carpenter to make desks and chairs. The work has been completed to a good standard and the school will open with its first pupils at the start of February 2019.

A true accomplishment through partnership between LEOT staff and local villagers!


Bounniew Somsak (pictured at right with Peter Banwell) was one of LEOT school’s first scholarship students where he was taught English and computer skills. Upon graduation he joined the LEOT team as the school’s premises manager. Over the years he has matured and grown into a strong and talented manager. For the last two years he has taken responsibility for the Community Program and has developed his ability to work with the team, government and the community. Bounniew has already identified two more villages that desperately need a school and with donor support has promised to build them this year.

LEOT has been supporting education in Laos since 2006 with the provision of educational scholarships. The LEOT School in Luang Prabang opened in 2012 with places for 300 students each year. Today, all staff are Lao nationals and are supported by a small team of overseas volunteers and charity Trustees. LEOT has been actively engaged in community development and capacity building work for the past few years.

If you are interested in supporting one of LEOT’s upcoming community development projects please consider making a donation today.