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RESHAPING LIVES: How TAFE NSW is helping Phaeng’s inspiring MISSION for change

TAFE NSW National Environment Centre

RESHAPING LIVES: How TAFE NSW is helping Phaeng’s inspiring MISSION for change

RESHAPING LIVES: TAFE NSW National Environment Centre permaculture student Phaeng Xaphokhame will use the practical hands-on skills and knowledge learned to help impoverished farmers become more productive in his native Laos.

April 19, 2021

A TAFE NSW National Environmental Centre (NEC) student has vowed to use his newfound skills and knowledge to help transform the lives of the most vulnerable in his native Laos.

Phaeng Xaphokhame, an agricultural extension officer for the Laotian government, has completed a Certificate IV in Permaculture and is now tackling a diploma, planning on using the qualifications to help farmers in one of Laos’ poorest provinces navigate the twin perils of climate change and land degradation.

Permaculture is the study of designing sustainable environments in a way that works with nature’s processes and ecology.

For Mr Xaphokhame, travelling to Albury and learning under TAFE NSW Head Teacher of Agroecology Rob Fenton, an internationally renowned figure in the permaculture movement, was the ideal way to learn the art and science of permaculture.

The 36-year-old plans to build a Permaculture Learning Centre in the Viengkham district, one of the poorest in Laos, when he returns home and build a network of Australian permaculture specialists to support the charitable cause.

“We live in a tropical rainforest in Laos so permaculture is so important,” he said.

“Many people in Viengkham are subsistence farmers, but if we can improve their sustainability through permaculture, they can grow enough food to sell some at the markets and make some money.

“I want to help change the way people do agriculture because we are being threatened by more flooding, more drought and more disease.”

Mr Xaphokhame said he was “honoured” to be learning from TAFE NSW and Mr Fenton.

“Rob is an incredible teacher and has so many great ideas I can take back home and teach local people to do more productive agriculture by conserving the environment,” he said. “He feels more like a friend than a teacher and I can discuss things with him openly and fruitfully.”

Mr Fenton said he was inspired by Mr Xaphokhame’s vision and was proud TAFE NSW was arming him with the practical hands-on skills and experience to make a profoundc difference in the lives of Laotians.

“Over the years, our permaculture students have achieved some amazing things but what Phaeng is planning to do is potentially the most important project of the lot,” Mr Fenton said.

“Permaculture is such a growing field and is becoming an important inbuilt part of a whole range of professions.”

To find out more about studying permaculture at TAFE NSW NEC, phone 13 16 01 or visit

Media contact: Daniel Johns, TAFE NSW Communications Specialist