Work away is a website that allows you to volunteer with a family or small organization in many different countries. For a few hours of daily work, you get free accommodation and sometimes meals. Many people see this as an ideal way of getting to know the real side of a foreign country.
When they hear the term “volunteer”, many people immediately assume it’s about working with underprivileged children. Well, it’s not.
Read about our experience in our first week with work away!
What are we doing here exactly?
So we’re staying in one of the 10 rooms of a nice foreign-owned guesthouse in Luang Prabang, in Laos. We have our private bathroom, kitchen access, breakfast included and we can do our laundry for free. In exchange for this, we work from 7:30 till 10:30 making and serving breakfast for our guests. On our second day here, we had a table of 12 people coming in and we did pretty good, considering neither of us had done this before.
Other than the two families that run this guesthouse, there are 6 more members of the staff. When the house is full, everyone does a little bit of everything, including Rachel and Susie, the two owners, who help around. Usually they’re here every morning, busy at the reception or in their office.
Stephen, Susie’s husband, is quite a handyman and he always finds something to repair or build around the house. Rachel is American and Susie is Australian and both had traveled for many years before they settled down in Luang Prabang. Oh, and on top of all this, they’re getting a new business started, a buffalo dairy farm!
So every morning, it’s either me or Alex who serve breakfast along with one other guy. There are busy mornings when we have to make breakfast for 10-15 people at the same time, while other times there’s nobody coming in so we make coffee and cook just for ourselves. In our busiest day, we had a table of 15 people, who kept changing their minds about what they want, so we were in a great rush to keep everyone happy.
Since I wake up at 7:30 every 2 days, if it’s a slow morning, I keep myself busy mopping, reading, etc. The funny thing is that since we’re in Laos, I became a morning person, so the waking up at 7:30 doesn’t bother me as much 🙂
Sometimes we do some reception work as well. I like this the most, because it’s more interesting. The owners have all kinds of management and control systems, spreadsheets with the team roster, room status and bookings. So the reception is the “headquarters”, where you can control everything that’s going on in the guesthouse.
We don’t clean the rooms or take care of supplies personally. So we like it here because we have a lot of time for ourselves, the view is beautiful and working with Lao people is an interesting experience. It’s nice to interact and learn about their culture while doing this easy job. Plus, when I feel like it, I share stories with guests from all over the world.
Why do they need Work away?
One of the main reasons why Villa Merry 1 is successful is that the owners are foreign and very helpful. It’s almost always full, even in the low season and rooms are booked even 6 months in advance. So there’s always something going on and having English speaking work awayers is of great help to them.
The staff also benefits from this, practicing their English skills and getting help when they don’t understand. Locals tend to lose their focus easily when dealing with many people at once. Our presence here is also meant to help with dealing with rude or impatient customers.
I can go on for quite a while about our hosts and they way things are going here at Villa Merry 1 but I’ll stop for now. To sum up, it was our first work away experience and we loved it!
There is nothing like staying in the same house with the locals and working with them to understand a country and a place! And we have to thank work away for making it possible!