A chance for a brighter future
A seven-year-old boy in Laos is determined to finish school, but living with a disability in a poor community means the odds are against him. The support of ordinary Australians can give children like Boun a brighter future.
By Rita Mu
Boun (above) is a shy, curious boy with a big heart.
He lives in a small, remote community in Huaphanh Province in the eastern part of Laos. It is a poor, farming village where the majority of families, including Boun’s, are of the Khmu ethnic minority group.
Boun’s parents work long hours, growing and harvesting rice and vegetables, to put food on the table and to send Boun and his three siblings to school.
Boun is in Grade 3.
He speaks two languages.
Khmu is his first and comes most naturally to him.
He is also learning Lao, the country’s national language, which is taught in schools.
Lao is Boun’s favourite subject.
He loves school and, at such a young age, already understands the value of education.
“I want to study until I graduate,” Boun says.
The odds, however, are against him.
Boun has a learning disability, which makes reading and writing challenging.
His father, Xiengphet, says Boun’s learning difficulties began when Boun was four years old, after he suffered a severe illness that also left him with a mobility issue that makes it difficult and painful to walk.
Boun’s mother or father usually help him get to and from school each day.
Boun’s peers tease him about his physical disability.
“They call me Mr Crippled,” Boun says. “I don’t like it.” No one, especially a child, should be called Mr Crippled.
It is devastating that a child like Boun, at only seven years old, has to face so many challenges: poverty, a physical disability, learning difficulties and bullying.
Disability is not an inability
Yet, Boun sees a brighter future for himself. He is determined to keep going to school. “He is strong-willed,” his father says.
Boun is also incredibly brave.
His teacher, Khamlian, has described him as a “determined” and “brave” student. “He is not afraid to ask questions about things that he is curious about,” Khamlian says.
But the barriers to inclusive education in Boun’s community means the chance of a brighter future for children with a disability, like Boun, is low.
Khamlian has been a teacher for 12 years. But like many teachers in poor, remote communities in Laos, he has had no formal training on how to prepare lessons for children with a disability to help them reach their full learning potential.
Schools often lack the facilities and resources to help children with a disability to excel in their studies, so they are often left behind their peers.
Stigma and discrimination also prevent children like Boun from participating in activities and opportunities.
Statistics show that fewer than half of all children with a disability in developing countries and in school complete primary education.
Unemployment among people with disabilities in developing countries is as high as 80%.
There is no shortage of love and support from Boun’s family, but his circumstances are against him.
How you can help
Your support can ensure children living with a disability can access a safe, inclusive and quality education so they can have a brighter future.
Change is needed at both systemic and community levels to ensure that children with a disability have access to safe, inclusive and quality learning environments at school.
ChildFund is implementing education projects at both systemic and community levels.
In the community we are helping to provide families and schools with the support they need. This includes:
• engaging family members on how to support their child’s learning;
• establishing support groups and visits for families;
• helping to identify children with a disability and assisting families to access services;
• equipping teachers with the knowledge to provide tailored lessons for children living with disability, and foster learning environments where all students are respected and included;
• helping school leaders to develop inclusive education plans; and
• developing and providing disability inclusive educational resources.
ChildFund in Laos is also organising village festivals to raise awareness of the rights of children living with disability.
At a systemic level, ChildFund is working closely with local partners, including village chiefs and local and national governments, to implement inclusive education policies and laws, and overall reduce the stigma and discrimination towards children with a disability.
Your support is needed to ensure we can continue this important work, which will help empower and educate vulnerable children like Boun.
Boun’s father says: “I want Boun to study to the highest level that he can.”
“I hope Boun will have a brighter future.”
You can help children like Boun access a safe, inclusive and quality education so they can have a brighter future.
Noy is breaking barriers through ChildFund’s Pass it Back. She wrote to tell us about her experience with the program.
My name is Noy. I was born and raised in Chomphet district, Luang Prabang province. When I finished 4th grade, my family moved to Vientiane to take care of my grandmother who was getting older.
I have been a Pass It Back Coach with the Lao Rugby Federation for more than two years now. It all started from the time I saw a group of people playing a new sport called rugby at the playground of my school.
I had been watching the children playing every day and noticed that, after the games, they would sit together to talk. It was something quite strange and different compared to other sports.
Plus, the coaches were still very young! I was really impressed about that, that people who are around my age can do such work.
I looked for information and signed up to be a coach through Lao Rugby. I was thrilled when I learned that I had been selected and at the first Coach Training, I learned that I was the only one, among all the new coaches, who did not know anything about the sport of rugby! That’s how my coaching journey began.
What I love about being a coach is that I can help young people to gain their self-confidence and courage to do whatever they want. Along with the skills and knowledge I’ve learnt, Pass It Back helps me to become a more confident and open person who now dares to step out of my comfort zone and embrace new things. I also made a lot of new friends from this program, too!
I also like that I can make some income since starting my coaching job. In the past I had a daily allowance from my parents, but now I rely less on them and feel more responsible about my life and my financial status.
I have monthly salary from my job as a coach and I put some into my savings. Sometimes I give some to my parents too. Being a Coach helps me to acknowledge the value of money because this is my very first job, and I have to think carefully before I spend any.
But what I appreciate the most about being part of Pass It Back is that I have had the opportunity to build my leadership skills and I’ve grown so much from that.
As a coach, my job is to deliver life skills and rugby training to children in my community. I need to ensure that the sessions are safe and fun and that my players learn skills which they can apply to their lives.
Being a coach also means I need to be a good role model. That makes me feel responsible for what I say, and the way I behave. Other coaches and I also have the chance to practice team-working skills, in which we learn how to ensure mutual understanding, reach agreement, and resolve conflicts.
The leadership skills I have gained from being a coach has been so useful to me, not only on but off the pitch. Before, I didn’t have any courage share my voice with my parents, I thought I was just a minor. At college, I used to say no whenever I had an opportunity to be a group leader because I did not believe I was good enough.
Being a coach has helped me gain confidence, improve my communications and teamwork skills, and has made me realise that anyone can be a leader.
I now am confident enough to share my thoughts with my parents, and I even provide them with advice on family matters. At school, I’ve started taking on the role of group leader, and lead my team through group assignments. Yes, now I know that I can do it!
Last summer, during the 2-month semester break from college, I decided to apply for an internship in the Finance Department at ChildFund Laos, as I’m studying finance. I was accepted!
I gained so much valuable knowledge and experience in terms of finance work and could apply skills I’ve learnt from Pass It Back, such as making plans, setting goals, communicating well with others, and working as a team. There were of course some challenges at the beginning, but I tried my best, asked when not sure, always seeking solutions where there was a problem and I learnt from my mistakes.
At the end of the internship, the Finance Manager of ChildFund Laos asked me to stay longer, which means a lot to me. It means my support and skills are acknowledged and I am proud of that, though I had turn it down to continue my new semester at college.
When I first joined Pass It Back, my parents did not support my decision. They didn’t understand the program and they had the misperception that rugby is a violent sport and I could get hurt.
Now they have changed. They have seen that I have been given opportunities to travel, I can earn my own money, and I have become more mature. They are proud to see these changes in me. Some people in my village even said to me: “Good on you Noy! You’ve already had a job and earnt some income at this age. We’re happy for you!”
Pass It Back is an essential program for young people in Laos to have a chance to reach their full potential. The program is open to everyone, regardless of their background, sex or gender.
I want to encourage more children and young people, especially girls, to join Pass It Back. I want them to have the opportunity to learn important skills and develop themselves through sport, like I have, and ‘pass it back’ to their community.