Until three years ago no girls in that area had completed primary school but now there are nine who had the determination to come to town to study. The tenth girl is Pher, the younger sister of a World Renew staff member who is from the Rshi ethnic group. Pher completed middle school equivalency in the non-formal education classes that our project supports in her village and is now continuing in upper secondary school in town. She also comes to the office to work as an intern/volunteer after school. World Renew provided these girls with uniforms, school supplies, and money for renting textbooks amounting to about $25 for each student.
During their first week we met to encourage them and give advice. Eu Pia, a Rshi high school junior who began interning with the project last year but is not from a project village, joined us to share how she felt when she first came to study in town. She said it took her two weeks to dare to ask another girl in class her name (most of them speak only limited Lao and are terribly shy around others). Eu encouraged the girls not to be afraid to speak up and not to give up. The Rshi staff and the three artist interns encouraged the girls to make the most of this opportunity since they themselves had wanted to study but had to drop out after only one or two years of secondary school (one artist after first grade).
The girls come from troubled homes. Two of the girls’ fathers are deceased and the remaining eight fathers are all addicted to opium, as are half of the girls’ mothers.
The girls come from troubled homes. Two of the girls’ fathers are deceased and the remaining eight fathers are all addicted to opium, as are half of the girls’ mothers. Just three of the fathers and one of the mothers attended primary school and only for a few years. In most cases the parents only reluctantly let the girls come because the loss of labor for the family household and field work is significant. The parents also do not have extra funds to help with living expenses for the girls. Our project is now in the process of building a student dorm for girls like these who need somewhere safe to stay if they are to continue their studies beyond primary school. In general, parents in a number of villages in ethnic minority areas feel there is not much point in letting their daughters study since soon they will be married and not able to help with the family workload. Many of the parents have chronic illnesses which is why they began smoking opium. One of the mothers has given birth to 11 children and only 5 have survived. The project helped her begin treatment for tuberculosis and provided her with vitamins for anemia and has since given birth to her last child in the hospital because of her many risk factors.
Our group of ten new high school students all agreed that their goal is to at least improve their Lao and learn enough about life in broader society to be able to help themselves and their children, even if their husbands end up addicted to opium, clearly a legitimate and sadly common concern. At this point, less than half of the girls are anticipating being able to continue beyond this year. But project staff will continue to encourage them, talk with their families, and provide support with the hope that momentum will continue to build not only for these girls, but for many others from their villages and beyond.
Education Advisor, Mai district, Phongsaly province
World Renew Laos