Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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Every child has the right to an equality in education regardless of gender or ethnicity; but in remote parts of Northern Laos traditional gender roles mean that many young girls miss out on the joy of learning. This is particularly true for children part of the Lu Mien ethnic group. 

“I went to the Gender Club at my school, and I have learned that we are all the same, we are all humans. We should respect our friends’ opinions to make them feel comfortable in their place,” said Songkarn, one young Lu Mien girl.

In the Houaphanh Province in Northern Laos, gender equality in education is still a significant issue. Traditional gender roles are still firmly entrenched in daily life. Young girls are expected to stay home and help with the family chores while the boys go to school. For 13-year-old Songkarn, being able to go to school is a privilege and she is lucky that her parents are supportive of her attaining higher education. 

Gender equity equality in education is about giving everyone the same opportunities and rights, regardless of what they look like, where they come from or how they choose to dress. But in many areas of Laos, prejudices and stereotypes are so deeply engrained in daily life, that it has prevented progress on gender equity.

“As the Lu Mien people, especially for women, if guests are coming to the house, the wife must stand as a servant and cannot sit and eat together with her husband and guests,” said San, one father in the community. 

ChildFund in Laos worked with local partners in the Houaphanh Province to run training on gender equity and equality. Through these sessions, the families and young people learned more about breaking down traditional gender roles.

“There was more cooperation between genders in the community after the ChildFund project was introduced. Everyone comes together to help each other. Women can now stay and dine with their spouses and guests,” said San.

The Gender and Language Education for Ethnic Students’ Empowerment (GLEESE) Project hosts awareness-raising sessions on gender and girls’ education equality for communities and families to take part in and runs weekly gender sensitisation training for primary students. Both these activities encourage parents to send their girls to school. 

“After learning more about gender and how it impacts our community, we now strongly encourage all our children to attend school, regardless of gender,” said San.

San said: “As a father, I do not force my children to do or be anything that I personally like. I support and encourage both my sons and my daughters to attend to school to get higher education if they can. I want to let them choose their own path when they grow up.”

Learn more about how ChildFund in Laos is working with local families and community partners to support girls from ethnic minorities to access an education.

You can also help to support gender equality in education, by signing up to donate monthly to children through ChildFund. You can start making a difference for 1,000 children now. With your help, many more children will be supported to go to school and to complete their education.

Twelve-year-old Kankham used to walk two hours a day to collect water. This World Water Day, on 22 March, we are celebrating how access to clean water changed Kankham’s childhood and the lives of many other children like him.

Kankham loves playing football after school with his friends. But he’s only been able to do this for the past year.

Living in a remote village in Laos with few resources and facilities, Kankham spent a lot of his childhood collecting water from a river far from home. He would wake up at dawn every morning to help his mother, Khonejai, fetch water for the day for drinking and cleaning. Together, they carried three buckets, a total of 25L, of water back home. It was a tiresome one-hour trek up and down the hills of Houaphanh Province.

In the evenings, Kankham and his mother repeated their walk to the river: Kankham carrying a 5L bucket and Khonejai, two 10L buckets. The water they collected was just enough to last them through the night. In the morning they would make the trek to the river again.

For half of the year, during Laos’ wet season, the walk to the river was especially tiresome and dangerous. Kankham and his mother navigated muddy and slippery paths as they balanced buckets full of water.

A few years ago, Kankham became very sick with diarrhoea after drinking unsafe water from the river. “We had to walk 8kms to the hospital,” Khonejai says. “It was a hard time for the family.”

Kankham, age 12, and his mother Khonejai (pictured above) used to walk two hours every day to collect water from a river far from their remote village in Houaphanh Province. A newly built clean water system in their community means Kankham has more time to learn and play.

This year’s World Water Day theme – accelerating change to solve the water and sanitation crisis – puts a spotlight on the devastating impacts the lack of clean water and sanitation can have on the lives of children and their families.

About 829,000 people – including more than a third of children – are estimated to die each year from diarrhoea because of unsafe drinking water, and poor sanitation and hygiene. In Laos, only 55 per cent of people have access to basic handwashing facilities, including clean water and soap.

In 2022 ChildFund in Laos worked with local partners and community members to build a clean water system in Kankham’s village, benefiting more than 400 people. The gravity-fed water system collects and filters water from the river, and stores it in a large tank in the village. Community members helped to build a plumbing system, connecting the water in the tank directly to 88 houses. Today, more than 100 families in Kankham’s village are accessing clean water instantly through taps in their homes.

ChildFund in Laos and local partners helped to install a clean water system in Kankham’s village in 2022. Kankham and his mother Khonejai (pictured above) can now access clean water from the comfort and safety of their own home.

Khonejai says Kankham is healthier and safer now that they no longer need to walk the long distance to the river, and can get clean water at home. She also says: “I have more time to spend with my family.”

For Kankham, he can get back to doing the things he loves. “I have more time in the morning to enjoy breakfast and get ready for school,” Kankham says. “After class, I have free time to play football with my friends.”

This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Children in Kankham’s village, in remote Laos, enjoy clean, running water in their community for the first time.

How you can help change children’s lives this World Water Day

This World Water Day, on 22 March, you can give the gift of clean water and sanitation to children like Kankham who need it most. Everyone should have the right to access clean water and sanitation around the globe. 

ChildFund Australia’s Gifts For Good range is a fantastic initiative for donations this World Water Day. Gifts For Good incorporates a number of water-based gifts that have the power to change lives. 

You can help provide children and families overseas with access to clean water and sanitation by donating:

  • A hand pump well: This will provide clean water for children and their families for drinking, cleaning and bathing. Children may no longer have to make long, dangerous journeys on foot to collect water from unreliable, contaminated sources. This will also offer children the protection from the risk of deadly waterborne diseases.
  • A deepwater borehole: Imagine your impact when you give the gift of clean water that a whole school – or even an entire community – can rely upon for years to come.
  • A hand washing station: This is a simple gift with the power to help everyone in a community improve sanitation and hygiene, and stay healthy.