It’s not that Ban Xae village’s government in Soukhouma, Laos, is unaware of the community’s lack of resources for education and economic development. It’s that the government simply lacks the means to effectively address the challenges. But with a helping hand, Ban Xae’s fortunes are turning around.
To start, we wanted to find out what issues were most pressing and who was most affected. So we directly engaged with community members, including meaningful participation from children and people with disabilities. Their input identified a couple of key issues.
One is widespread illiteracy. In Laos many parents undervalue education in the face of an immediate need to survive. The principal of Xae primary school, Mr. Khamsai, describes the problem this way: “For the last two years in my village there were many challenges, especially children’s access to school. Most parents do not understand education and very much focused their work on finding food for their family. So they did not much support children’s education.”
The community voted to use “micro-projects” to focus on improving access to education. Micro projects are short-term, low-cost projects that support child well-being and build the capacity of local groups, but may fall outside of standard World Vision programs. Implemented and monitored by the community itself, they’re a means of building unity and owning their own development.
These micro projects are in addition to the use of standard World Vision programs that promote literacy and improve the skills of teachers for grades 1-3. Outcomes include 10 schools being provided with story books and improved sanitation facilities to foster a supportive learning environment for children. Parents are also being counselled on the value of education. Over 1,100 students are receiving direct benefits from these micro projects and programs.
A second issue is dependence on seasonal agriculture that doesn’t provide enough income and leads to heightened rates of malnutrition among children. Some 98 percent of the population is employed in rice cultivation and then only during rainy season. The need for more incomelatter often obliges parents to leave their children in search of work abroad in Thailand. Agricultural diversification is therefore key to improved economic development.
Word Vision worked with the community to train 137 households in animal husbandry and agriculture to improve yield. This has included the provision of 440 chickens, 440 ducks and fisheries training. This is laying a foundation for increased income that can lead to economic self-sufficiency and meet key goals, such as improving access to diverse foods year round for households with children under age 5.