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Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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A digital library with hundreds of storybooks is helping children from an ethnic minority group in Laos stay engaged in school and learn to read and write in their national language.

Young primary school students like eight-year-old Ari (pictured above) in a remote village in Huaphanh Province, in northeast Laos, have long faced challenges reading and writing Lao, a second language for many of them, because of the lack of teaching and learning resources at their school.

Long-time primary school teacher Toui says the majority of students at his school communicate with one another in their ethnic language rather than Lao. Over the past 32 years as a teacher, he has seen children of this ethnic minority group progress “very slowly” when it comes to reading, writing and speaking Laos’ national language.

Children who are literate in Lao transition easier to mainstream education and have greater job opportunities in the future. It is also easier for them to access government services and ensure their rights are not violated.

Toui says the introduction of the digital library, introduced by ChildFund in Laos and Library For All, has inspired students to learn Lao, and increased their confidence.

“Since the digital library was implemented two years in our school, students have been more motivated to come to school, are interested in reading, and have developed their Lao reading and speaking skills,” Toui says.

“Many children in this area are shy. They don’t often share their opinions and ideas. Since the digital library was introduce, the children have improved their communication skills, and they question more.”

At just eleven years of age, Lailor (pictured) joined the ChildFund Pass It Back program.

At that time, she would help her parents with housework and also looked after family’s grocery store. Taking part in a new sport with new people was not easy.

Lailor explains: “When I first joined the program, it was very difficult because the players came from different schools and we were not familiar to each other.

“We spent almost a month getting to know each other. During that time, I played rugby twice a week after school.”

At the age of 14, Lailor turned her attention to coaching. “I started playing rugby since grade 6,” Lailor says. “I had been playing rugby for almost three years before applying to become a coach with Lao Rugby Federation. Now I’ve been a coach for almost two years.”

ChildFund Pass It Back aims to build a new generation of leaders through sport, and is implemented by ChildFund in partnership with Asia Rugby and World Rugby.

Lailor says: “I have learnt a lot from the program, including leadership skills and goal setting.” As coaches and players are trained to work with local and overseas staff, the program also provides opportunities for them to practice their communication skill with people from diverse backgrounds.

“Not only am I playing sport, the program also teaches me English. That’s very useful for my future career,” she says.

Having a better understanding of issues around gender equality has also been an important part of Lailor’s learning. She explains: “When my friends told me not to play rugby with boys, I replied that boys and girls are both human beings. We have the same rights; we are friends and can play together.”

Lailor also has new aspirations for the future. “I won’t stop developing myself in term of being a coach,” she says. “My passion is to train a new generation to become great rugby players.”

In the meanwhile, Lailor is focused on completing high school, and hopes to continue her studies at university.

“I want to encourage other friends who are interested in playing rugby to join us. Don’t be afraid of anything!” Lailor says. “It is a chance to create friendships and have varied experiences that children may not find in school.”