(Graphic) Design Training Phongsaly

I spent the last two weeks in the remote province of Phongsaly, close to the border to China – and a 3 days bus (and boat) drive from Xiengkhouang! Since it is exhausting and time-consuming to reach Phongsaly, the province does not have as many tourists as other places in Laos. The people who come here mostly have time and are interested in people, local culture and nature. Carine, who is working as a GIZ advisor for the Tourism Office in Phongsaly follows a human centred approach. Together with the Tourism Office, she develops community benefitting tourism activities

The Phongsaly Provincial Tourism Office is committed to promote responsible tourism. Since 2008, we have been developing community-based ecotourism activities in collaboration with GIZ (German government’s development agency). All our treks ensure fair incomes to the villages and involve the community as much as possible. We are also conscious of the value of the diverse cultures and ask villages about local taboos to respect in order to inform our guests.

Here are the community-based principles our treks follow:

  • to offer transparent and fair incomes to the villagers (food, accommodation, akha massage, horse rental)
  • to include a contribution to the funds of the visited villages, to make sure that the whole village benefit from tourism
  • to also include a 15% contribution to a provincial village development fund. Until now we have used it to improve access trails, support the construction of latrines, and provide mosquito nets to new and poor host families.
  • to respect traditional beliefs and local cultures and inform our customers about the local rules and taboos
  • to promote local cultures giving the opportunity to our customers to learn about villagers’ traditions, beliefs and way of life. When possible, a traditional akha massage, a visit to animist sites, a baci ceremony or an activity in the village is included/proposed.
  • to support handicraft production, as we believe that it helps to maintain traditional skills and makes especially the women proud of their know-how. We worked on handicraft development in cooperation with development projects and, in order to encourage and promote handicraft production, we now offer a locally hand-made gift to our customers!

In order to strenghten local capacities, Carine asked me to do a 10-day Design training with interested staff from the Tourism Office (around 10 people). I did not have time to prepare a Curriculum but instead mostly improvised (using some of the knowledge I aquired during my design teaching with Khanitta and Zar). The advantage of improvisation in teaching is to be able to “go with the flow”. This means that I could easily adjust to the needs and interests of my students without pushing through my own, rigour ideas. However, this teaching method requires a teacher who is sensible towards the needs of students and / or students who are engaged, pro-active and who express their questions and opinions (something which is very rare to find in Laos). On the other hand, I also have my “hidden agenda” – I want people to think by themselves, to experiment and try new paths, to think about the consequences of their work which premises that they are able to see their work in a bigger picture. I want them to understand that design is not only about knowing how to use digital tools. And during my improvised training, I realized that I need to focus more on my “hidden agenda”. How to do this in an improvised way? How to get people excited about these issues when they mostly care about how to drop shadows and make gradients with Photoshop? Where is the balance?


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