Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

A year has passed since Lao teenager Khied experienced the “most terrible nightmare imaginable”.

The collapse of a dam in Attapeu in July 2018 caused flash flooding into Khied’s small village in southern Laos and spread into neighbouring Cambodia.

At least 26 people reportedly died and more than 6,000 children and their families were displaced, seeking refuge in camps.

Khied’s family lost their home and everything they owned.

The ensuing 12 months have brought many challenges, but Khied says she has emerged stronger thanks to ChildFund supporters who helped provide vital relief after the floods.

“Among all the misfortune there have still been some really good things that have made me happy,” Khied says.

“I’ve never felt discouraged or cursed by fate as a result of the disaster. It has made me into a much stronger person in both body and mind.”

After the flooding, Khied was worried she would not return to school. Her family was homeless and her parents had no way to make a living.

The event had been traumatic.

After their home was destroyed, Khied was dragged out with her brother and sister by the force of the water, to the forest.

It was five days before they saw their parents again.

“During the flood, I told my sister and brother to hold onto a tree so we would not float away,” Khied said. “There was so much debris like roofs, and logs and rocks that hit us.

“I had to stay alert and take care of my brother and sister so they wouldn’t be scared.”

The siblings ended up on a mountain in the forest, where they stayed overnight.

The next day, Khied saw the extent of the devastation. Debris was floating everywhere and there wasn’t a house in sight.

“I could only hear the sounds of people, injured and crying,” she says.

“I tried looking for my parents and calling out for them, but I didn’t see them anywhere.”

They spent seven months at a displacement camp supported by ChildFund Laos, where the family received the help it needed to get back on its feet.

Khied was able to return to school and is now excited about finishing her studies next year.

She says the time she spent volunteering at a Child-Friendly Space at the camp has made her more confident about the future.

“I have learned to be more courageous, to participate more, and am better at sharing my thoughts and opinions,” Khied says.

“Part of that is that I’ve been able to attend trainings on how to implement activities through the Child-Friendly Spaces project.

“This has also allowed me to participate better and play a greater role in activities at my own school, especially dancing and playing sports.

“I even play on my school’s volleyball team.”

Khied is back in school and thriving thanks to ChildFund donors who helped her families following floods in Laos.

ChildFund Australia’s International Program Director Margaret Sheehan led an international team in a war zone, helped rebuild communities after Typhoon Haiyan and transformed health and education systems around the world.

Here Margaret  shares what it is like to be a female leader and why more women are needed in the development and humanitarian aid sector.

 

A new and challenging role in international aid

When civil war broke out in Yemen in 2015, Margaret was in the Philippines helping to piece together homes and schools that had been destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan.

While she had built a level of resilience in the Philippines working in environments where trauma and devastation were the daily norm, the role in Yemen had its own set of challenges.

She feared for her life when a bomb was dropped near the compound where she was living.

“You would hear bombing over in certain places and you would see the sky light up and then it would quiet again, but this day it was the closest it came.”

“We had to go down to the safe rooms; this bomb went off and the windows blew out, and I just thought, oh god, this is it.”

 

Margaret’s responsibilities as a leader during a crisis

Margaret was second-in-charge of a team of 12 who had been deployed by UNICEF to write proposals on the ground to raise funds for emergency items such as food and water for families affected by the war.

Living and working in a war zone as a senior female leader, however, meant her role became much more complex than writing proposals.

She found herself becoming a mentor, providing emotional support to her colleagues, particularly for the younger women in her team.

“There is a fair bit of mayhem going on because people are living in these strange environments. There’s a lot of emotional stuff,” Margaret says.

It is because of this that emergency situations need strong women, says Margaret. “You need that rational side, but you also need some gentleness and someone to say it will be OK.”