Before joining ChildFund in Laos activities, 16-year-old Xaykham from Khoun District, Xiengkhouang Province had never heard of a children’s forum.
“I never knew there were activities where children could share their thoughts and opinions,” he said.
Traditionally, children’s voices in Laos have not been given serious attention, particularly in the public sphere of decision-making. That’s what makes opportunities such as the National Children’s Forum, an annual event co-hosted by ChildFund in Laos and the National Commission for the Advancement of Women and Mothers-Children (NCAWMC), so vital.
Xaykham has been lucky enough to participate in two such events in recent years. In addition to this year’s Children’s Forum, he was also able to join a 2019 event commemorating 30 years since the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. At the event child representatives from all the Lao provinces had an opportunity to meet and bring their concerns on issues affecting them to stakeholders at the national level.
But Xaykham (pictured above at the 2020 Lao Children’s Forum) is in the minority.
Xaykham said it was particularly important for children in places like his home province of Xiengkhouang to be able to participate in activities such as the Children’s Forum. In his area, he said, there were few opportunities where children could demonstrate their abilities. There might be some chances for children to show their talents in sports or singing, but as for providing their thoughts and opinions, or speaking out, there were not really any platforms.
When he heard about the Children’s Forum, which is now in its third year in Laos, Xaykham was enthusiastic to participate. “I wanted to have the chance to speak as a youth representative,” he said. “In my community, most children still lack opportunities. I wanted to speak out to represent youth in my district and to tell adult leaders and authorities about the problems children in my community are facing.”
Stepping out of comfort zones
Xaykham was not the only one making the most of his time at the forum. Sixteen-year-old Namfonh, who is from Vientiane Capital and was the MC at the forum, was attending the event for the first time after hearing about it through a peer at her school who was part of ChildFund’s Ready for Life project.
“Since the forum, I have wanted to have new experiences and open opportunities for myself, to do things I’ve never done before,” Namfonh said.
Namfonh and Xaykham are both taking part in ChildFund’s Ready for Life project, which aims to empower young people through developing their decision-making, critical thinking and life skills, and increasing their opportunities to participate in change, and voice their opinions, in their communities.
“Before joining the Ready for Life project, I was shy and didn’t dare to speak out,” Xaykham said. “It was something I never had the chance to do. There were some times that I did have the chance, but I didn’t dare to take it.
Namfonh had a similar experience. “When my teachers used to ask questions, I would know the answer, but I wouldn’t dare to say it.” She smiled as she thought of how shy and fearful she had been in the past. “Even if it was just my friends inviting me to go out with them, I wouldn’t dare to go!”
Danny and Angela have been sponsoring children through ChildFund longer than they have had their own children.
The Queensland couple, who are parents to Cadoc, Matilda and Kilian, aged 11, 16 and 19, first became sponsors 25 years ago in 1995.
“We’ve been with ChildFund longer than with the kids,” Danny says.
“We heard about ChildFund through my younger brother Luke who was sponsoring through ChildFund at the time.
“Angela and I both believe in some form of giving back. We were already with a whole bunch of organisations, but we chose ChildFund. At the time when we started sponsoring, we thought that ChildFund was a group that didn’t waste too much money on flashy publications and the amount of money or the ratio spent on children was higher than the other organisations.
“ChildFund seemed quite humble.”
Over the years Danny and Angela have involved their children (the family are pictured above with Danny’s brother Luke on the far left) in the correspondence with their sponsored children. “We’ve really tried to bring the kids with us,” Danny says. “When we get the letters from our sponsored children, we get the kids to write a sentence here and there. “They’ve always known who they are.”
Growing up, giving back
Danny says the notion of service and giving back comes from his parents and his upbringing. His father, an accountant, and his mother, a librarian, were lay Catholic missionaries who spent a couple of years working in the 1970s in Papua New Guinea, where Danny was born.
“It was very wild and beautiful,” Danny says. “Dad and Mum came from Sydney; it would have been like going to the moon for them,” Danny says. “They were really committed people; working for two years without a wage to make things better in a Papuan community.
“Mum and Dad have always been the inspiration for my charitable giving. Ange’s parents are also really good people too.”
As a teenager, Danny spent time helping at soup kitchens and supporting people with disability. “Dad used to volunteer at a soup kitchen; he would take me along and that was a real eye-opener. Then I got into a swimming club for people with a disability and that was a lot of fun.”
As a couple, Danny and Angela volunteered with a group in the United States, helping people with a disability go on holidays. “It was without doubt one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever done,” Danny says. “The people who we were with would basically only be able to go on a trip once every five years. It was our job to help them have a normal holiday; to go to breakfast, go to lunch, go on the Big Dipper and go to Disneyland. Just help them.”
Upon returning to Australia, Danny worked as a support worker in Queensland for people with an intellectual disability. The work paid poorly but it was fulfilling, he says.
Passing on the notion of service
Today, Danny and Angela work in the education sector, as a high school principal and senior primary school teacher respectively. Through ChildFund, they sponsor five-year-old Truc from Vietnam, and 12-year-old Emma from Kenya.
Through photos and correspondence Danny and Angela have developed a close connection with their sponsored children.
“I don’t know that everyone sees that we have a responsibility beyond our shores, but I think we do. And it makes sense to start with children.”
Danny and Angela hope they can inspire others to help. In addition to sharing their child sponsorship stories with friends and family, they also give Gifts for Good. “I basically don’t give Christmas presents,” Danny says. “If we give Gifts for Good every year, people get the message you believe in it.
“I think it’s the greatest gift to give.”
Like their parents, Danny and Angela are starting at home, and hope to pass on the notion of service first to their children. “There is a fine line between grandiosity and just trying to show them that there is more to life than just yourself,” Danny says. “We won’t know how the children have taken this on board; I hope they’re decent people; I think they are, I really do.
“We hope that they might also become sponsors when they’re earning money themselves, and think beyond their own needs.”
The benefits of helping others is never one-sided, says Danny. “You are doing something good for humanity. You are doing something good for other people, but you are also doing something good for yourself too.”