Khounkham, August 3, 2018ScolLaundry

Bounmee Phommalinh loves her job. “I like making beds and folding things – it’s very satisfying”, she beams. Some might think her work, as a house-keeper at guest rooms on the Theun-Hinboun hydropower site in rural Laos, to be limited or unambitious. But 22-year-old Bounmee, a bright and bubbly character, is very enthusiastic.
“There’s many different aspects to a successful guest house”, she explains, “lots of tasks that should be done perfectly. With training, practice, patience and experience you can achieve this, but you have to work hard”.

These are not the words of a casual worker, but the thoughts of a dedicated professional who completed two years of training at the Lao National Institute for Tourism and Hospitality, or Lanith, following a scholarship awarded by the Theun-Hinboun Power Company (THPC).

From Khounkham district in Khammouane province, the location of the Theun-Hinboun Powerhouse, Bounmee grew up next to the hydropower project, which was under construction when she was born. At the age of ten she enrolled at the Theun-Hinboun Private School, which offers free education to the children of local families. “My family was poor”, recalls Bounmee, “so I was even given uniforms”.

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Bounmee remembers her school days fondly. Having friends who went to other schools, she was able to appreciate the quality of education at the THPC School. “The teachers were good”, she says. “They had a lot of skills, understanding how to transfer their knowledge and let each child develop individually”.

At the age of 18 Bounmee finished her national high-school exams and applied for a THPC vocational scholarship, available for underprivileged children at the company school. She was one of two pupils selected for the award, which offered places at Lanith in the Lao capital, Vientiane.

“I had never been to Vientiane before and was so excited,” she remembers. “There were a lot of new experiences for me, going to a big city so far away.” There were also many challenges, but the scholarship included a monthly stipend from THPC and support from company staff in the capital. They gave Bounmee textbooks and stationery, and knowing that she could always call them if she needed was a great help. She was able to live frugally as a student, saving some of her allowance each month in order to help her family.

At Lanith, Bounmee chose a diploma in Accommodation Operations, including courses in tourism and hospitality, communication and computing skills, English, housekeeping, and business management. She especially enjoyed the housekeeping course, which taught practical skills and provided the opportunity to work and learn alongside fellow students.

In her first year she completed a month’s work experience at a resort in the tourist destination of Vang Vieng, and the next year she was an intern at a high-class hotel in Vientiane. These stints not only taught her about working under real-time pressure, but also paid well.  ScolTowel

The THPC bursary is a tied scholarship, meaning the students are obliged to work two years for the company following their training. Bounmee says she understood this when applying for the scholarship. How does she feel about it now, when she could easily find work in the city? “I’m so happy to work at the THPC camp,” she replies. “My house is nearby and I’ve missed being home. Some other pupils from the school won scholarships at a higher level, to study at university, but they weren’t lucky enough to get jobs with the company”.

The THPC guest house hosts around 170 visitors per month, mainly contractors, government officials and head-office staff coming to site for meetings and work. Bounmee arrives at eight o’clock each morning to meet the manager and team for daily planning. She then works in the laundry, folding and finishing all items washed the previous day before returning them to the guest rooms and cleaning each room.

She works with speed and precision, taking less than ten minutes to turn around each double room with en suite bathroom. Her efficiency makes skilled tasks like bedsheet cornering and towel folding look simple.

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Young and new amidst a team of older women, Bounmee is aware that she has to tread carefully when displaying her skills and voicing opinions. She has ideas on how the guest house systems could be improved but for now is content to lead by example, working hard and leaving each room spotless. “There are many different tasks each day, so it’s interesting”, she says. “If you can make a place clean and welcoming, you make yourself and the guests happy.”

Education has given Bounmee confidence and ambition. “I’ve been given an opportunity to improve myself and earn a steady income,” she says. “Without the THPC School and the scholarship, I would be labouring in rice fields, doing harder work for less income. Now I’m saving money for the future. I want to improve myself and one day run a housekeeping service that trains people and is used by many companies. Maybe then I can offer opportunities to local people, like THPC does”.

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