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‘I am a girl, I can play!’

ChildFund Australia has been working in Laos for close to four years and made a decision to start using sport in our work two years ago. The role of sport is often overlooked in development, but we see it as a high-quality, low-cost tool that can be used to promote child protection, rights and participation in a fun way for kids, while also providing educational and health benefits.

We’re currently teaming with Sport Matters and the Lao Rugby Federation on a project that incorporates sport and play for over 5,000 children and youth in rural Laos. The lack of appropriate play and sporting facilities and services was identified by children in the area, and is strongly linked by children and their communities with wider issues of healthy living and the negative effect of drug, tobacco and alcohol use.

The project began by introducing 52 local youths to sport and play for the first time and subsequently training them as youth leaders. Apart from learning how to lead sport and play sessions in their village, they also learned how to use sport as a tool to encourage children and young people to speak up about issues that are important to them.

The project has been particularly successful in getting girls involved in organised sport. In March, over 120 girls from 10 ChildFund-supported villages in Nonghet district gathered at a local high school for a tag rugby tournament to celebrate International Women’s Day. Coaches from the Lao Rugby Federation and local youth leaders worked together to coordinate the tournament.

Rallying under the slogans of “I am a girl, I can play!” and “I am a girl, I am strong!” in the three local languages of Lao, H`mong and Khmu, these young girls and women showed tenacity and heart in their first competition. Participants also learned valuable lessons including sportsmanship, respect for opponents, communication, teamwork and conflict resolution.

This competition marked the first time these young women had represented their villages in any type of formal sports tournament, leaving each participant and village with much to be proud of. After a long day where 10 teams competed in 25 matches, Houayzouang village took home victory!

The day drew to a close with a shared meal and awards ceremony, where each village was given materials to make a banner with their own slogan reflecting the role of sport in empowering girls and women in their villages.

The Lao Rugby Federation will soon return to Nonghet to work with youth leaders again to organise a joint tournament for boys’ and girls’ teams in celebration of Lao New Year.

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