Saisingkham Itthiphone is proud to be able to represent his peers at the 2022 Lao Children’s Forum, a national event organised by the National Commission for the Advancement of Women and Mothers and Children (NCAWMC), in partnership with Khammouane Provincial Commission for the Advancement of Women and Mothers and Children.
Saisingkham is a youth representative from Luangprabang Province. “I attended the Lao Children’s Forum for the first time in 2019, and this year I was re-selected to represent the province. I am proud to be a part of this forum because the voices of children and young people are heard. I feel that our voices are very powerful and valuable, and that everyone cherishes children’s thoughts,” he said.
The theme of this year’s forum, held on 13 May in Khammouane Province, was ‘Progress in promoting children’s rights in Lao PDR’ and brought together 62 young people from 17 different provinces. Together they researched, discussed and brainstormed solutions to issues that they and their peers face, including early marriage, unsafe use of social media, road accidents and COVID-19.
It was an opportunity for children and young people to come together and learn about how to become active, responsible, and contributing members of their community. The participants walked away with a newfound confidence on how to address the challenges they and their peers face.
“I am a shy child. I’m usually afraid of speaking up and do not think I can change the society that I live in or the things that affect my life. But after attending the Lao Children’s Forum, I felt that everyone is important to the nation and I want all the children to bring their talents to develop society,” he said.
Another attendee from the Xaysomboun Province, Yervang Xiapao, said, “When I heard that I had been chosen to join the Lao Children’s Forum, I thought that this opportunity would allow me to help other children in my community, as there are still many children in my province who do not prioritise their education. By attending the event, I aim to share what I’ve learnt with my friends in my neighborhood.”
“I want the Lao Children’s Forum to be held every year. And, if possible, I would like ChildFund to do an event like this in my province. Because my hometown is in the mountains, there are no organisations that work with children and young people and I really want to be able to participate in more project activities like the other children,” said Yervang.
Before attending the event, youth representatives attended training sessions to build their confidence and develop everyday life skills. These sessions also encouraged them to learn about gender equality, healthcare, leadership skills and important life skills such as how to plan for their future.
The project also hosted local school-based forums in preparation for the National Forum, which will in turn prepare children and youth representatives for the annual ASEAN Children’s Forum later this year.
Unfortunately, the forum could not go ahead in-person in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So instead ChildFund selected 12 representatives of children and adolescents from three provinces, Vientiane Capital, Xieng Khouang and Huaphanh, to participate in the forum as an online event.
ChildFund in Laos is proud to support children and young people from diverse backgrounds to attend the event, including all genders, ethnicities and children and young people from both urban and rural parts of the country.
The Lao Children’s Forum is an annual event held under the Ready for Life program, funded by the Australian Governments Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).
In April, ChildFund Australia Global Programs Director, Sarah Hunt, travelled to the ChildFund in Laos Country Office for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Here Sarah was able to visit a health and nutrition project, to understand the impacts of the program and speak to those who have been involved in the project. She also spent time with the ChildFund in Laos team, planning future activities.
We spoke with Sarah to hear about her experience visiting Laos:
How do your days usually start? Tell us a bit about how you get ready for a day in the field and how you get there.
Before I arrived, the ChildFund in Laos Operations Officer, Boua, helped me find an apartment that was about a 30-minute walk from the office and near the Mekong River.
April is one of the hottest times of year in Vientiane, so I would usually try and leave for the office around 7.30am before it got too warm.
The way Vientiane is set up meant there are lots of little and interconnecting streets and it took me a couple of weeks to find my preferred route. I got to know a few ‘regulars’ along the way as well as the local shops that sold cold and refreshing cans of Coke Zero!
Where in Laos did you visit on this trip?
I spent most of my time in Vientiane working from the ChildFund in Laos Country Office. I did manage a 48-hour trip to Huaphanh Province to visit a few projects. it is a beautiful, mountainous, and much cooler, part of the country!
You visited a health program while in Laos. What is this program, when did it start and where is it at now?
The project is part of an EU funded initiative, led by Save the Children and implemented in partnership between Save, Care, Comité de Coopération avec le Laos and ChildFund.
The aim of the Sustainable Change Achieved through Linking Improved Nutrition and Governance (SCALING)project is to improve food and nutrition security among rural households and create sustainable agricultural wealth at the village and household level, as well as to improve nutritional status of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and children under 5 years old in project districts.
This project is drawing to a close and will formally end in June 2022.
You met a few of the women who are part of this program. Tell us about that? What did they have to say about their involvement in the program?
One of the successes of the project has been the establishment of local women-led village savings and loans groups. Recognising that in remote and rural areas, access to formal banking and loan opportunities are rare, these groups come together on a regular basis and contribute money each meeting that can be accessed as a loan by different members.
Different members have used these funds for things such as contributing to school fees, meeting unexpected medical expenses and investment in livelihood opportunities. In addition to being a practical way for women to access credit, that they are groups managed by and for women, has also helped address issues of gender inequality. For example, women are increasingly recognised and respected in terms of economic decision-making within the household.
Another important element of the project was the training of Community Facilitators and Home Visit volunteers. The volunteers were each responsible for about 10-15 households, conducting home monitoring visits when women were pregnant and visiting new mothers.
These visits were an opportunity to provide information, advice, and support to expecting and new mothers, including the provision of food supplements and safety and hygiene related interventions.
What is next for the SCALING project?
With the SCALING project coming to an end, ChildFund, signed a new agreement that will allow us to expand our SCALING activities into new areas.
A new project, Integrated Nutrition for Growth (IN4G) will take our key learnings from the SCALING project and implement them, working in partnership with local organisations.
IN4G is funded by the Australian Government (DFAT) via the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and will run until June 2024.
What is your hope for these projects?
When we evaluated the SCALING project, we found some promising impacts. The hope is that the next program, the IN4G project, will be able to achieve similar results. I am hoping that we will be able to reduce stunting, improve sanitation, increase the number of women giving birth in health facilities and improve child nutrition in the regions ChildFund is working in.
We’re also hoping that through this project, we’ll be able to strengthen our collaborative processes and partnerships with local government actors.
What was your favourite part about your trip to Laos?
The food was a highlight for me. Although I didn’t use quite as much chilli on my food as my colleagues. I found some local noodle places in Xam Neua, the capital of Huaphanh, that become favourites.
I was also there during the Laos New Year celebrations. While public celebrations were restricted because of COVID-19, we were still able to celebrate in the office. This included a traditional, moving Buddhist ceremony in the office, followed by the team hosting a fun lunch and series of games.
How do you like to wind down from your day?
The walk home from the office was always a nice way to finish up the working day. There was always so much colour, cheer, sounds and delicious smells from the street-food to observe.