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Vocational School of Arts Preserving traditional Buddhist arts whilst educating, inspiring lives and reducing poverty

Laos has a rich cultural heritage, with Buddhist art and architecture forming the cornerstone of artistic tradition. Over the years, there has been a rapid decline in the number of artisans, and the few skills that have survived have been driven by commercial interests to feed the tourism industry. These losses are acute in Luang Prabang, which traditionally had been a centre for creative arts and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is an urgent need to preserve traditional Buddhist artistry, which the Buddhist Heritage Project - with the support of Badur Foundation and others - is seeking to address.

The Buddhist community (Sangha) of Luang Prabang decided to build a Vocational School of Arts, the first of its kind in Laos dedicated to training students in traditional arts and crafts skills and, in turn, preparing them for employment on graduation.

The School of Arts sits within the grounds of the Buddhist Academy, providing a continuum of education opportunities for students whilst enrolled at the Academy and on graduation. The Academy already plays an increasingly vital role in the educational life of the community, offering cost-effective Secondary School education to more than 500 students from some of the most disadvantaged, poor and isolated communities in Laos.

The Vocational School of Arts has three principal goals: The first is teaching of the disappearing traditional fine art and artisanal skills. The second goal speaks to the crucial issue of poverty reduction: Laos remains one of the poorest countries in the world, largely because a large percentage of its population is engaged in subsistence farming, and the children of those families are denied an education for economic reasons or simply due to isolation. The third goal, less tangible but perhaps the most important, lies in the opportunity to foster and encourage creative inspiration and thinking in these young people.

Disciplines to be taught at the School will include bronze casting, high glaze ceramic production, stencil cutting and application, production and preservation of palm leaf manuscripts, production of traditional musical instruments, the creation of natural based dyes and paints, mural painting and gold leaf application, among many others.

Perhaps, the most interesting aspect of the proposed School of Arts building design is that the planned structures will be unfinished in architectural detail. These details will be completed by the students as they learn the traditional skills. Through their classes, they will decorate, paint and stencil the walls, complete the roof and eaves detailing and design and make the decorative roof eave supports. The buildings will be a ‘living’ project, which will progress as the students learn and benefit from “hands on” training. Another innovative aspect of the project is that it will be integrated with a social enterprise shop in the historic centre of Luang Prabang. Celadon, the exclusive retail shop initiated and run by the Buddhist Heritage project will provide one of the most important outlets for the art work produced by the students. Profits raised by the sales will in turn go to support the schools at the Buddhist Academy.

With the support of Badur and other generous donors phase 1 of the project is fully funded. Civil works (road, retaining walls, drainage etc.) commenced in May 2017 and have by now been completed with the devoted support of the local community. Construction of the first teaching building commenced
in November 2017 with the completion scheduled for December 2018. Upon completion of this phase, the School will be, to all intents and purposes, functional. Architectural Plans have been drawn up for Phases Two and Three, and final budgets have been prepared for those Phases. The Vocational School of Arts will play an integral part in maintaining the cultural heritage of the Lao people for generations to come. In time, plans for the final step – the creation of a tertiary education institution – will be formalised and the resulting university will complement the country’s only Buddhist University in the capital, Vientiane.

The success of the Vocational School of Arts rests on the generosity of individuals, companies, foundations and institutions that recognise the vision and the goal of the transformation of thousands of young lives.. If you would like to be involved in the expansion of the school, to support the upcoming construction of Phase II and II, and to receive any further detail about the plans, the Trustees of the Badur Foundation would be delighted to hear from you. If you would like to make what will be a most gratefully received donation, you can do so via this webpage and we encourage you to contact us directly to let us know, so that we may acknowledge receipt and issue you a formal receipt for tax purposes. Please click here to read more about other elements of The Buddhist Heritage Project supported by Badur Foundation.