Renovate Three Elementary Schools in Laos

by Social and Economic Developers Association (SEDA)
at the SEDA supported school
at the SEDA supported school

On April 26, I met with SouLy from SEDA in Vientiane, Lao to visit one of the schools in Ban Phao (or Phao village) that received funding for renovation. Everyone at the school knew SouLy and greeted her upon arrival. She had been working with this specific school and village for some time.

This village's income generation is mainly from rice production, cassava, vegetables, and potatoes. The town consists of mostly farmers supplying these items to cities. In this town, there is an elementary and middle school but no high school - the children have to go to the next town for high school.

Walking around, I could hear laughter see kids playing and teachers congregating. A horn was blown, and the kids were being called back to class. These classrooms were no longer held in huts, but in solid structures allowing the children to study and learn in a sturdy and safe environment. 

I sat with two of the students who spoke to me about SEDA and the volunteers SEDA brought through to teach – they said they learned a lot of things like English, numbers, months, fruit, and conversation in English. One girl even said her favorite subject was English because it helped her to understand others that speak it. The teachers were happy to sit and speak with us also sharing their needs now with us - the school now needed science equipment to turn theory into practice, books, a library and computers.

I would like to thank SEDA and SouLy for her support and hospitality in accompanying me to visit this school and experience how GlobalGiving funds were used.

speaking with students
speaking with students
classrooms receiving renovation
classrooms receiving renovation
Renovated Classrooms
Renovated Classrooms

Links:

Education in Laos reflects its diverse history, from the domination of the temple (vat) education system, through to the colonial era, the revolution, and the present-day drive for economic growth. Under French rule, there was a lack of investment in educational infrastructure for native Laotians, and the traditional vat education system provided the only access to education for ordinary people. Despite increasing investment mid-century, low literacy levels remained until 1975 when the government launched its infrastructure and literacy drive. Literacy levels shot up, but the previous underinvestment in infrastructure and human resources limited how sustainable this growth was.

In 1986, the government launched the ‘New Economic Mechanism’ to move from a centrally planned to a market-oriented economy. This reform explicitly pinpointed education as a prime driver in economic growth. Education levels and infrastructure saw some modest improvement, but again there was a limit to this growth, especially in rural areas. Market-orientated reforms continued throughout the 1990s and despite some successes, there was actually an increase in educational inequality. This was most apparent in the increasing urban/rural divide, dating back to colonial days and the vat system before that.

Merely 64.5% of males and 59.6% females in rural areas are in primary education; however, the figure for urban children is as high as 82% for both males and females. This leaves just 57.3% of rural males and 51.3% of rural females in attendance in primary education. The disparity becomes even starker once socio-economic class is taken into account.

How Is SEDA Fighting This?

SEDA believes the lack of sustainable growth in Lao education systems is caused not by a lack of will but by a lack of infrastructure to consolidate government investment and strategy. This is particularly true in rural, outlying communities. The lack of historical investment in rural Lao infrastructure will no longer be an excuse to deny Lao children a primary education.

SEDA recognizes this and is deep in consultation with Ban Oun-Yai Village, Lao Ngarm District, and Salavan Province. We have selected one school in the village, and we are working closely with the School Principle, Village Committees, and the District of Education to select and deliver construction materials for school renovation. Upon successful completion of this project, SEDA will engage with the other schools in the Lao Ngarm District in need of infrastructure development. We are currently in need of funds to allow us to reach as many rural children as possible, and we are in the process of beginning consultation with village committees. SEDA realizes the scale of the project ahead but will not use that as an excuse not to fight for the right of every rural child to a primary education. This project is essential if SEDA is to do its part to achieve Goal 2 of the Millennium Development Goals—the right to universal primary education.

Please show your support for the children of Ban Oun-Yai Village by donating through Global Giving or directly to SEDA through our PayPal account.

SEDA and the Ban Phao and Ban Hai villages would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has donated to this project.

Thanks to your generous donations, and help from a private donor and the Lao PDR Government, we have been able to complete the renovations at both schools.

The children of Ban Phao village have also benefited from volunteer English teacher Will Thomason, who has recently finished teaching an 8 week summer school program.

Head teacher at the Ban Phao school, Mr Khan told SEDA:

“The children are delighted with their new school and learnt a lot from Will. We were very sad to see him leave. We really hope that we can work with SEDA and Global Giving donors to keep making improvements.”

Continuing to improve education:

SEDA’s work improving education is not finished. Following the successes in Ban Phao and Ban Hai, over 100 schools in Laos have asked to work with SEDA on renovations and providing school materials.

We still need your help to reach our goals and make a real difference to education in Laos. SEDA would be grateful if donors could send a nominal donation, from just $10, to the new education projects listed on Global Giving, to keep the work going and to receive updates on all the great things that are happening.

We also welcome comments, feedback and suggestions from donors. Please email us at info@seda-laos.org.

Will with some of his students
Will with some of his students

This week at school was stressful, and the key word I had to keep telling myself was “patience.” Although many of the kids enjoy the class and learning, there is obviously a wide range of interest, ability, and drive to learn. I went from having around fifty children attend class last week to about thirty, but only fifteen to twenty come each day, varying on the day and time. I have seen the dwindling numbers for mainly two reasons; a drastic drop in tangible and edible incentives to do well and try hard, and a rise in the learning-to-playing ratio. Every once in a while, a new game or song will catch their attention for a good 5 to 15 minutes, but there is a constant struggle to find the balance between work and play. I kind of like having fewer children, because I can give each one more attention, and have started to learn almost everyone’s name (although I probably will never pronounce them correctly, and am laughed at when I try a new name). I have about 5 children on the brink of having the ability to read. The English alphabet is so weird. Why does the letter “H” (aych) sound so different from the sound it makes in a word? And why does “C” exist? There is already a letter for both of the sounds it makes, “K” and “S”. This, along with other random instances, has made it harder to teach English than I thought. It can be frustrating, because the English language comes so easily to me, to see others struggle to read a seemingly simple word. I have explanations for some things, but alas, what I have been led to say (in Lao) to students when I do not know the answer is “No ask. Remember.” I have a newfound respect for the entity of school; not because of the drive of the Lao children to learn, but because I now know the work that teachers must put into planning and executing every hour of every day. I see how rewarding, but also how exhausting it can be. I have gotten a taste of everything, posing as a kindergarten teacher one minute, a foreign-language teacher the next, a middle-school teacher telling students that the next note I see, I will make them stay longer to help clean the room. Lao children are essentially the same as American children. Although in general the Ban Phao people look very young for their age, there is a point when they go from middle-aged to old, and I have not seen a middle ground. I think because of their lack of health, once they reach a certain point, hair and teeth start to fall out and skin wrinkles deeply. It is sad to see this, but they are accustomed to that type of aging, and have come to expect it, though I see a change in the younger generation, who more ardently wish to brush their teeth and wash their hands.

Students focusing on their work
Students focusing on their work
The village hold a ceremony to say goodbye to Will
The village hold a ceremony to say goodbye to Will

Elementary school children in the Ban Phao village, 56 km outside of Vientiane, have been enjoying their brand new classrooms.

Six classrooms were built with money donated from a private donor from Korea, and have made a huge difference to the school and the children’s education.

Now SEDA needs help to raise the money to renovate the Junior High classrooms.

The classrooms were built over 30 years ago, and suffered a lot of damage during the war. The rooms are in a terrible state of disrepair, without windows, with old equipment, and with poorly constructed walls. This makes teaching the children very difficult.

To renovate the buildings and give these children the chance for a decent school, SEDA needs to raise $25,000-29,000. The village also needs help raising money to build a library for the children. Teachers really want the children to be passionate about reading, but have to house their few books in the teacher’s conference room. Headmaster, Mr Khan dreams of having a dedicated library so that they learn to love books.

Fond farewells:

It is with sadness that the children at the school wave goodbye to their English teacher: SEDA volunteer Will Thomason.

Will has been volunteering at the village for 8 weeks for the summer school program, and during that time he has made a huge impression on the kids; improving their English language, building confidence and motivating them so that the really enjoy going to school.

The volunteer program has been so successful that the school’s headmaster, Mr Khan told us that he wants SEDA’s help to recruit a volunteer to teach for the whole school year.

SEDA need’s to raise funds to recruit volunteers and cover their basic living expenses.

To find out more about volunteer opportunities with SEDA please look here: http://www.idealist.org/if/i/en/av/VolunteerOpportunity/173836-80/c

The old classroom needs renovation
The old classroom needs renovation
The kids love the new building
The kids love the new building
 

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Organization Information

Social and Economic Developers Association (SEDA)

Location: Vientiane - Afghanistan
Website: http:/​/​seda-laos.org
Project Leader:
Souly QuachAngkham
Founder
Vientiane Capital, Vientiane Province Lao People's Democratic Republic

Funded Project!

Thanks to 48 donors like you, a total of $6,984 was raised for this project on GlobalGiving. Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
   

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