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Discovering a love of language

For Meethor, who comes from an ethnic minority group in Laos, access to education not only means literacy and numeracy, but a new passion for languages.

Nonghet District is one of the poorest regions in Xieng Kouang Province, Laos. Here, the majority of the population is H’mong, an ethnic minority group in Laos often excluded from development opportunities.

In what is predominantly an agricultural community, with farmers harvesting corn and raising livestock such as pigs, ducks and chickens, education levels among adults are very low. This is due to the fact that schools have been difficult to access, or are simply not available within reasonable travelling distance.

To improve basic literacy and numeracy levels for the new generation, ChildFund Laos is working with local communities and government bodies to give every child in this district the opportunity to attend a school which has proper infrastructure and is easily accessable.

Just recently I met a young girl called Meethor. She is 12 years old and a year 4 primary student at Nammen village school. She described to me what her school used to look like: “In the past, the school was just a small wooden building. Some parts of the building were broken and there were many small and big holes on the walls.”

This meant that students like Meethor were exposed to all the elements during class. She explains: “The walls could not protect the students from the wind, and during the winter season because the wind flew through those holes.

“Some years, the weather was very cold and the teacher would tell us to stop studying because they were worried that students would become ill.”

As a result, learning was a slow process and the teacher was not always able to complete the syllabus during the time allotted.

But school life has improved dramatically for Meethor. Now, with support from ChildFund Laos and the Australian Government, their classrooms are brand new, and much bigger than before. Meethor says: “The building is so strong it can protect us from the wind in each season.”

Built using bricks and cement instead of timber, there are now classrooms to accommodate all of the year 1- 5 students, a room for teachers, new toilets and sanitation facilities, and a large playground for outdoor activities.

For children from ethnic minority groups, school may be the first time that they have the chance to learn the Lao language, which is not usually spoken at home. Meethor says: “All people in my family communicate with each other in the Khmu language. They can not speak Lao well. Even for me, I could not speak fluently. This problem encouraged me to attend school and study the Lao language.

“Now I can speak, read and communicate fluently with other people in Lao language and I have more confidence. I can also easily read the billboards along the streets and even the signs on buses going past.”

In fact, Meethor has developed such a passion for languages that she is already contemplating how it might figure in her future career. “I have one year left before I complete primary school. Then I have a plan to continue my study in the lower and upper secondary levels.

“I have a big dream that I would like to go on to further education at university, where I could major in my favourite subject – Lao language. I would like to teach Lao language so I can bring all my knowledge and experience and transfer it to the children in my community. I can educate the students to be people who have great knowledge and abilities.”

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