Interning with ICS #3: People-oriented work


Khamsone Chantavong is doing 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 is working on implementation and process management related to the Improved Cookstoves (ICS) Programme.

I’ve just returned from a 2.5-week trip to Xonnaburi District, Savannakhet Province. I joined the Lao Institute for Renewable Energy (LIRE) team as technical support from SNV to conduct monitoring and capacity building with household volunteers. My work was supporting the efficiency of LIRE’s Household Air Pollution (HAP) measurements from the burning of solid fuels for cooking, heating, and lighting in 3 different villages.

The village workshops included stove introductions and installation, and follow up visits to see how the stoves were set up and provide guidance on how to use the solar panels. Thus far, the participating households have been very excited to use the stoves. They find the stoves easy to light and operate, and quick to steam rice, which can significantly reduce their fuel consumption. We will study this particular aspect further on a field trip in March. Early in the mornings, around 6:00am, I usually went to the market to buy food to share for lunch later with the villagers. Sharing food is a very important social factor in Lao society and before you speak to people’s brains about stove repairs, you have to speak to their stomachs! This gesture helped to improve our social interactions and relationships during the trainings.

One of my goals on this trip was to make sure that the clean stoves used by the villagers were 100% functional, so I did a lot of problem diagnosis, repair, networking with the producer in Africa, and volunteer training. Most of the household volunteers were very keen to learn about cleaning and fixing the stoves for the future. I tried to troubleshoot technical problems with the stoves that could influence data collection and jeopardise the clean stove project. I realised that it was important to get the volunteers as involved in the maintenance work as possible for their own learning.

The challenges of fieldwork have taught me a lot of important lessons, such as the value of being patient and not being afraid to repeat myself. I’ve also come to realise that it is important to be more people-oriented than task-oriented when working in a Lao context. I spent some of my free time in Savannakhet at the temple because people often hang out there, and this social aspect of helped me to become better connected. It’s key to report my activity to the different partners, and as such, part of my role in the field has also been networking with local authorities, such as the district officer, to help them understand the importance of cleaning and taking care of the stoves for longer use.

Finally, (I hope) I have developed my sense of humour a bit from this experience and from the unexpected social encounters that occurred in the field. One day after my work was finished, I took some of my Lao books out to practice my reading. Soon many children gathered around me, curious about this foreigner trying to read. I really enjoyed spending time with them and we ended up all practicing our Lao reading together!