Category Archives: War Spoon Village Ban Napia

Ban Napia: Finishing

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It seems that things in Ban Napia are not as bad as expected after my previous visit. Thanongsone and me went there one last time together in order to improve the Visitor Centre – and got lots of support from the villagers! All of a sudden they woke up and were eager to help and take ownership. Thus, we spent a great and very productive day in the village and I can leave the place with a much lighter heart than I thought! I just hope that the energy we experienced during that day will last…


Ban Napia: Follow Up / Failure?

Today, I went on a short trip to the “war-spoon village” – Ban Napia – in order to see how the exhibition / Visitor Centre developed over the past months. I didn’t expect much since Samuel from HELVETAS already told me that almost nothing happened. But nonetheless, it was disappointing to see that villagers use the place to store their construction materials and that it was dusty and dirty all over. The shelves are not used (nothing is there to sell expect for a few spoons lying around) and there is no sign outside and no donation box. I thought we discussed last time that the villagers (together with HELVETAS) were going to work on this but apparently they had other things to do. At least the information boards look nice (even though there is one missing and no one seems to know anything about it)!
I’m glad that I had a look just in time to improve things before I will leave Xiengkhouang. But I also wonder what the real problem is. It seems like the usual “bad case” in development work – giving people the fish instead of teaching them how to do it themselves. At the other hand the villagers wanted to have the weaving house and HELVETAS seems to work close with the locals. Still, as for myself, I figured out the following problems (actually these are deficits which I observed in many projects here in Laos):

1. No clear responsibilities between HELVETAS and GIZ and a lack of communication > no clear understanding of my own role (problems with taking over leadership at the beginning and now it’s almost too late)
2. Not enough focus / concentration: too much time passed between our visits; no strategic thinking, no planning, no deadlines etc.
3. No person in charge in Ban Napia
4. Not enough time to work on this project, too many other assignments
5. It seems there is no one with experience in how-to-establish-a-village-museum and especially how to organize and involve the villagers: how to motivate them, make them proud, how to encourage them to take care and take over responsibilities etc.

Let’s see how we can fix this! In the meantime I will keep one of our MA Mottos in mind (thanks Samuel Beckett): Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

Ban Napia Exhibition

Already some months ago, we finalized and printed information boards for the small Visitor Centre in Ban Napia. Katti and Andi installed them together with the villagers in the weaving house (I was too busy with other work). I didn’t even see the boards yet in person but got positive feedback! I will follow up and finish my work with Ban Napia in late february with helping to organize a sewing training (bring some product samples) and thinking about packaging and product presentation as well as shaping the Visitor Centre.

Ban Napia: Spoon Making

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I already wrote about my work with the village of Ban Napia – but didn’t show what the villagers are actually doing and what makes this village so special!

The last week, I had the chance to document the spoon making process in Ban Napia. After the “Secret War” ended in Laos, the country was (and still is) littered with UXO and empty bomb shells. Despite the tragic history and the danger involved in war scrap collection, a stranger from the north of Laos taught the people of Ban Napia how to use the legacies of war for something useful: 30 years ago, the villagers started to melt the aluminum parts of bombs to transform them into spoons.

The production process is quite simple: As a first step large pieces of metal are melted in the fire in order to separate aluminum from other metals (as steel). Small pieces of aluminum are then melted in a kiln and once melted poured in the mold through a small hole at the top (the mold is made locally: a wooden frame filled with a mixture of ash and water dried in the sun – or clay – and an existing spoon is used for the shape). Molds can be opened after one minute and can be quickly reused.

Today, there are 10 families involved in the spoon making business and a regular family can produce 900 spoons in one full day of work – using 25 kg of aluminum and 0,5 m3 of wood. The total production for the whole village is about 145,000 spoons per year!

The spoon making creates a lot of interest outside the village of Ban Napia – and controversy opinions. Many people I talked with (especially tourists) are fascinated by how pragmatic the villagers deal with the legacies of war. War scrap becomes just another resource which villagers use to improve their everyday lives. Also the transformation of an object from something that kills to something that feeds seems to appeal to people.

However, there are also other voices that claim that the use of bombs for spoon making encourages war scrap collection from vulnerable communities (for 1 kilo of scrap metal people get around 14.000 kip = around 1,30 Euro, which is good money for people in rural areas) – and many accidents with UXO happen to people who collect bombs to sell! There have been even 3 minor accidents with UXO in Ban Napia and 3 spoonmakers got injured from splashes due to the melting of a detonator and a fuse. My friend Bounmi (also an UXO Survivor) once said to me: “The people who collect war scrap only think about money. They don’t think about their lives.”

Personally, I think it is good that the spoon making in Ban Napia is controversy because it means that people start to talk and discuss about the war, the legacies of war, war scrap collection, about poor communities etc. It helps to arise awareness. But it is even more important to work with the villagers and the supply chain to make sure that the activity of spoon-making and scrap metal collection becomes safe. War scrap collection will happen anyways and instead of ignoring this, it’s better to face the problem and educate people to make sure that no one looses lives or get injured by UXO now and in future. And I’m happy that HELVETAS (together with MAG) is working to improve the situation in the village of Ban Napia – but it is a long and difficult process…

Some Artists from Ban Napia (with their happy Self-Portraits)

Mr. Dschai

Mr. Mek



Mr. Zar

Drawing Workshop in Ban Napia

After a longer break due to heavy rain (= bad roads) and my holidays in Europe, I finally conducted a 1-day drawing workshop with children in Ban Napia. The aim of this workshop was that villagers help with the design of the Visitor Centre – the drawings and some of the photos I took will become part of the exhibition. So it’s again about ownership but also about meeting and enhance trust and collaboration with the people of Ban Napia. And not to forget: it was mainly about inspiring children, give them a wonderful day and have fun together!

It takes around one hour from Phonsavan to Ban Napia on a dirty road and when we arrived in the village, no one seemed to be there – and I got stressed imagining that everyone was working in the fields and we had to drive back without having done anything. But within half an hour the room in the community meeting centre exploded with children of different ages as well as curious adults – instead of the expected ten or a maximum of fifteen children, there were around thirty to forty!

This was my schedule for the workshop. I would like to thank Lisa Nowlain for sharing her curricula which made it much easier for me to set up mine:

1. Introduction: First Thanongsone, Nattaya and me presented ourselves and explained why we were there with a small comic I prepared beforehand. When we asked the children if they had any questions and what they expected from the day they were too shy to answer – something that continued to happen during the whole day (even it improved towards the end)

2. Warm-up / Get-to-know: I asked the kids to split into teams of two and do blind drawings of each other – not watching the paper at all (10 min). After this, they had to present the person they were drawing to the rest of the group. The children were quite nervous when it came to presenting in front of everyone but there was a lot of laughter about the portraits (even though there was only one child who completely understood my briefing).

3. Warm-up / imagination: We then played the exquisite corpse game. Especially the younger children were confused at the beginning, so that Thanongsone, Nattaya and me drew one example together. Many students then just copied exactly what we were drawing but after two or three rounds, the students became more and more imaginative. And all of a sudden, everyone just started to draw whatever came to their minds, not following the rules of the game anymore. It was fantastic to see how much they enjoyed themselves and I was almost sad that I had to stop and direct them!

4. Self-portrait: As a next step, I asked the children to draw a “happy self-portrait” – a portrait of themselves doing something that makes them happy. To ensure that everyone understood the task, I asked some of them (the ones who paid less attention) to repeat what I asked them to do. Everyone put a lot of effort into their drawing – many “artists” even stayed to finish their drawings after we told them to go home for lunch. It was interesting to see that many children draw themselves at school (or on their way to school). But also nature and being in nature (hunting, fishing etc.) seems to make  them happy!

5. Meditation: After lunch (even more potential artists showed up!), we sat down in a circle and I told everyone to close their eyes. Nattaya and me took them on a 10 minutes dream travel into the future of Ban Napia. Everyone was very quite and when we asked them  the first time to open their eyes, no one did. I’m not sure if they didn’t understand or if they just enjoyed the dream travel so much (they told us later they enjoyed it a lot!).

6. The future of Ban Napia: We then split the children into 5 groups – my initial idea was that each group makes one big drawing of how they want Ban Napia to look like in future. But only the older ones (between 12 to 16 years old) actually grouped and drew together – the younger kids continued with individual drawings. One thing almost all drawings had in common was a big street with cars – so far, there is only a dirty road in Ban Napia and mostly motorbikes (I’m not sure if there is a car at all).

7. In-between games: To get some fresh air and get everyone together, we went outside to play some games together (running in a circle, imaginary toss, silent mail etc.). Even though this was great laughter, everyone was happy and excited when I told them to go back inside to continue with their drawing!

8. Presentation and ending: At the end of the day, we finished with sitting together in a circle, having some snacks and everyone was asked to present their drawings about Ban Napia in the future. I tried to encourage a discussion about the drawings, but I only got answers to yes or no questions (do you like the colors in this drawing? do you like the idea? did you have fun today?… ). Once I asked “Why?” the children struggled to find an answer.

It was a great day and I want to thank the artists of Ban Napia for their enthusiasm, creativity and beautiful smiles (and that you even sang songs for me!). Thank you to Thanongsone (working for Helvetas) for arranging everything with and in the village and joining us even during weekend! Thanks so much to Nattaya for your translations!!!

Lessons learnt

It was the first time that I organized a workshop with children and I’m very glad about the experience. Children are so fun to work with and you get direct and honest feedback (if they start climbing on your back, you can be sure that you did a good job, especially with the shy children in Laos :-)

Before I came to Ban Napia, I was afraid that the students will not enjoy drawing. Now I know that there was no need to worry. Everyone who participated loved to draw and no one was forced to participate or stay. Seeing this energy and enthusiasm, I wish that I had more time with them (focussing more on different drawing techniques, group-work, story-telling, encouraging critical thinking, discussion and presentation skills). Especially with having in mind how shy everyone was and how it started to change towards the end (in only the few hours we spent together). Furthermore, we didn’t have the time to interview everyone about their pictures – something that I would do next time. Some pictures speak for themselves but sometimes it’s quite difficult to understand the artist.

It was quite a challenge (and exhausting) though to work with so many children. I realized how difficult it must be for a teacher to give every student the same attention and also to get everyone’s attention. Students in Laos are quite disciplined but in our creative space (and with so many people) it was sometimes quite chaotic –  doing something unexpected helps in these situations (jump on a table and clap in your hands, throw a paper ball at the loudest child, asking a question etc.).

Some other things I’ve learnt include:

> always make sure that everyone understands the assignment
> girls copy each other more than boys and like to draw smaller and more detailed
> a teacher should never draw, otherwise the students just copy
> as a teacher: don’t be afraid to make a fool out of yourself but also mark your borders
> we have a limited amount of energy and have to use it wisely (have to find out when it is necessary to intervene, when i’m allowed to step back etc.);
> having a repertoire of different ideas for games is very useful
> stay flexible and go with the flow: don’t insist on an idea but be open to adapt to the needs of a situation (which you can’t predict); but also make sure that you will not forget half of the things you actually needed to do (as it happened to me :-)

Field Trip to Ban Napia

> involvement of villagers in development of the Visitor-Center / Souvenir Shop: collect feedback and ideas for further steps in design-process
> increase understanding for why tourists come and what’s interesting for them (and what kind of information is necessary for the exhibition)
> give villagers new ideas for “souvenirs” and how different producer groups can work together (ex. föh-set: combination of the war-spoon, chopsticks and textile together with a recipe for the famous noodle-soup)
> discuss responsibilities: who can do what?
> explain and help with organization of tourism (invoice etc.)
> discuss village fund

> since it was my first time to meet the people of Ban Napia, I presented myself and Andi encouraged them to ask questions which was fun and created a relaxed atmosphere
> i told a small story about tourists coming to Ban Napia (with Sorsisoulin and Andi helping me with translations and supported by small illustrations which i prepared beforehand)
> the story was intended to be a starting point to discuss our ideas for the visitor-center – and it worked great; everyone was involved, understood and in the end we got a “happy agreement” of the villagers!
> I also suggested the idea to run a small drawing-workshop with children from the village (and interested adults) to develop some illustrations for parts of the exhibition; we will hopefully run this before i leave to Germany in August
> more difficult was the question about how to finance the Visitor-Centre: Helvetas and GIZ will support with some money but we also want the villagers to invest a small amount to increase their feeling of owner-ship and responsibility; however, they seem either not to have the money or unwilling to invest
> Andi and Bunnee explained possibilities of how to organize tourism in the village, Thanongsone discussed organization of Village Fund
> for the further development of handicrafts (and souvenirs), we showed some samples which were well recieved; i discussed with the weaving women colors and quality of yarn (which is not easy since my lao is still on a small-talk level)

Lessons Learnt
> create a relaxed atmosphere with villagers!
> again: story-telling and bringing tangible examples: ++++++
> don’t come to a meeting and be “the expat” with a “a to z” plan and timetable – listen to villagers and be flexible to adapt and change according to their needs
> it’s lovely how people always invite you to their homes (after a meeting) where they offer rice whiskey (laolao) and food; this makes a working-relationship warmer and more “human”