In Laos, thanks to the support of Aide et Action, little Kanna can dream of a great future

As we celebrate International Day of the Girl, we highlight the story of Kanna Sunivong, an inspiring young student who received a scholarship to continue her primary education and now has big dreams for her future.

In BeangLuang village, a small rural village surrounded by vast green rice fields in Oudomxay province, north-western Laos, 11-year-old Kanna walks the 1.5 km to school alone each morning. Despite her young age, Kanna has taken on many responsibilities. When she was only five years old, the girl lost her mother, forcing her to take on the household chores. Currently, she lives with her elderly father, stepmother and 13-year-old sister in a small house without electricity. Kanna's father and stepmother are unemployed and her sister lives with mental health problems, which has left Kanna with the burden of being the sole breadwinner. After school, Kanna works to support her family and until the COVID-19 pandemic struck, she washed dishes in a restaurant in the evenings and at weekends. This life left her with too little time to play with her friends.

The impact of school closures due to COVID-19

When the primary school in BeangLuang closed due to the pandemic, Kanna studied alone at home with no one to support her with her homework, as her father and stepmother are illiterate. Both of them dropped out of school at an early age, however, they still encourage Kanna to study and realise the importance of sending their children to school. " Sending my children to school is important because I want them to have the opportunity to find a good jobl", says Xai, Kanna's father. Unfortunately, Kanna's experience is not unique.
According to Aide et Action's 2020 report on the impact of COVID-19 on education in Laos, nearly one third of primary school students reported that they had no one to teach them at home during school closures. Poverty is one of the main causes of school dropout in Laos. According to a recent UNICEF report, based on data from the Lao Social Indicator Survey II (2017), children from the poorest households have a school completion rate of only 58 %, compared to 98% for children from the richest households. Ethnic minority groups such as Kanna's, living in poor, rural and economically disadvantaged communities are the most vulnerable and at risk of dropping out of school early.

As well as having no school support, Kanna also had no access to digital devices such as a smartphone or the internet, which prevented her from participating in online distance learning, and the lack of electricity at home meant that the hours she could read her books and learn her lessons were limited.

Fortunately, Kanna's school was able to reopen quickly because the rate of infection with COVID-19 remains low in her province, much to her delight. " If my school closed again, I would be sad not to be able to meet my friends or study with them "The little girl says she hopes her school will remain open.

A pathway to equal opportunities

To help students like Kanna from poor, rural and economically disadvantaged communities to stay in school, Aide et Action provides financial support linked to school fees. For the academic year 2020-2021, 64 students, including 50 % girls, have been provided with the necessary materials to attend school. This support is aligned with the 8th Education Sector Development Plan of Laos (2016-2020) and Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) "Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all".

For Xai, her children's education means everything and Aide et Action's support helps ease her worries about their future. " I worry a lot about my daughters because they are still so young and I am too old nowhe explains. I am afraid to die and leave them, who will take care of them then? Only education can make my daughters' future better."

Aide et Action's support allows Kanna's family to buy all her school materials, including her school uniform, books, a school bag, shoes and money to buy food. Relieved that his daughter can continue her studies, Kanna's father now has big dreams for her future. " I dream that my children will graduate from university and work for the government as civil servants, with a good salary. I don't want them to be poor and work hard like we did "says Xai.

Every child has the right to education

In Laos, Aide et Action works in collaboration with educational authorities to provide support to children from marginalized communities at high risk of dropping out of school. Our action aims at improving the school environment and the learning outcomes of students in 30 target schools, and at restoring equal opportunities.

" In the future I want to be a doctor or a teachersays Kanna enthusiastically. I want to be a doctor because doctors can treat people and it will be easy to find a job and get a good salary, and I want to be a teacher because I like teaching students and helping them to study ". His passion for education is already evident in the way he teaches his sister at home.

In addition to giving Kanna the opportunity to learn, her regular attendance at school also allows her to socialize, play with her friends and enjoy her childhood; an opportunity that every girl child should have, not just today on International Girls' Day, but every day.

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